Rancho Mirage school mourns 3 killed in crash

Times Staff Writer

A car accident that killed three seniors led to the cancellation of classes at a private school in Rancho Mirage on Tuesday, as administrators and students struggled to make sense of the tragedy.

“Everyone is in shock right now,” said Graham Hookey, headmaster at the independent Marywood-Palm Valley School.

“This is only the first day. Initially you are strong, then angry and then lonely.”

Hookey said the accident occurred about 3:30 p.m. Monday, barely 10 minutes after the three students had left the school for home.


Rancho Mirage police said the students were southbound on Morningside Drive when driver Tabitha Loftis lost control of the car and struck a tree.

Loftis and passengers Stephano Mazzotti and Stefano Basha Snyder-Plati, all 17, were pronounced dead at the scene.

Police said alcohol did not appear to have been a factor.

Hookey said what he remembers most about the students was their infectious laughter.

“That was the one quality they all shared,” he said.

Barbara Klein, the school’s publications director, said they were excellent students.

“You couldn’t meet them and go away without liking them,” she said. “They had a zest for life, and they all had beautiful smiles.”

The preschool-to-12th grade nondenominational school has about 500 students, with 250 of them in the high school.

Although classes were canceled Tuesday, nearly 80% of students showed up to speak with grief counselors or talk among themselves about the tragedy, Hookey said.

School will resume today but students will hold a news conference in the morning to share their thoughts and feelings about those who died.