5 Teens Killed After Truck Drives Off Cherokee County Bridge
CHEROKEE COUNTY, Oklahoma - The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said five teenagers died Sunday night when their pickup crashed through a guardrail and drove off of Welling Bridge in Cherokee County. Welling is about four miles south of Tahlequah.
In the collision report, troopers say the 2006 Chevrolet Colorado pickup was traveling south on Welling Road after 10:30 p.m. when it departed the road to the right, struck a guardrail, then came back onto the road before departing to the left and driving through a railing and off the bridge.
Investigators said 18-year-old Donovan Caldwell from Muskogee was driving the truck. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said Caldwell was the only one of his friends wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.
The four other passengers were 18-year-old Jessica Swartwout from McAlester; 19-year-old Drake Wells from Thackerville; 18-year-old Lily Murphy of Gentry, Arkansas and 18-year-old Rhianna Seely of Salina.
All five died at the scene.
The five teens were enrolled at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
Monday, students and staff members grieved the loss, but will also honor the students with a prayer vigil. It will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Second Century Square. If it's raining, the vigil will be moved to the Jack Dobbins Field House.
Friends of Seely said she went by Autumn and that she was adventurous and a free spirit. That she loved dogs and music and motorcycles.
Friends of Caldwell said he was caring, kind and funny. They said he had a way of making his friends laugh even when they were having a bad day.
Swartwout was a basketball player and her friends said she was smart and loved being with her friends and family.
We haven't heard from Wells and Murphy's loved ones yet.
NSU President Dr. Steve Turner issued a statement Monday morning:
Dear NSU Family,
Just before 1:00 am, I was contacted by Campus Police and informed that five NSU students were killed in an auto accident in proximity to the Welling Bridge, south of Tahlequah. The news was devastating and crushing.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol reports the driver was as 18-year-old Donovan Caldwell of Muskogee. The passengers were identified as 18-year-old Jessica Swartwout of McAlester; 19-year-old Drake Wells of Thackerville; 18-year-old Rhianna Seely of Salina and 18-year-old Lily Murphy of Gentry, AR. Their families have been notified.
I cannot fathom the pain the families and friends of these young people are going through as a result of this terrible and tragic accident. My thoughts and prayers are with them this morning.
Activities have been underway throughout the night to provide counselors for the friends and co-students. Notification of the faculty who taught the students is underway. If you feel you need help in any way, please contact HawkReach Counseling Services at 918-444-2042 or Student Affairs at 918-444-2120. I have every confidence in the compassion of the NSU family to pull together and support those who are experiencing so much pain and sadness.
This will have a profound effect on all of us and Northeastern State University for many years to come. Supporting our students, faculty and staff will remain our top priority.
The NSU Community will be updated regarding memorial services and other related details as they become available.
University Relations Vice President Ben Hardcastle said, "These students have made an impact while they were here and their lives have been tragically cut short. And, of course, everyone is in mourning."
Indianola Public Schools posted on its Facebook page Monday morning that Swartwout was an Indianola grad.
Troopers say the truck fell approximately 35 feet into the river on its top, fully submerging the pickup under water.
The cause of the collision and the condition of the driver prior to the crash are still under investigation.