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10 school band members killed in crash in North Carolina

July 31, 1997

PLYMOUTH, N.C. (AP) _ A tractor-trailer plowed into a sport utility vehicle carrying high school students that had tried to pass in a no-passing zone on a wet country road on Wednesday, killing all 10 students.

The student driving the Ford Explorer lost control after crossing the center line to pass three cars in a light rain, police said.

The Explorer ``skidded sideways and was what we referred to as T-boned by the tractor-trailer rig, which means it literally hit the side of the van,″ said Renee Hoffman, state Highway Patrol spokeswoman.

``It’s one of the worst I’ve ever seen in my career,″ said Highway Patrol Lt. Wayne Taylor. ``It’s going to be one of the worst in North Carolina.″

Nine of the victims belonged to the Plymouth High School band, said band director Leroy Bland. The 10th was a classmate.

Elena Barber, a school secretary, they were taking a lunch break from summer band camp at the school.

The only student to survive the 1:30 p.m. crash died later at a hospital. They ranged in age from 14 to 17.

``I don’t know any other word except disbelief,″ Bland said. ``Maybe it’s just a bad dream.″

Barbara Burden lost two grandsons in the crash, including the driver. ``We had a buddy relationship. I want to remember them like I saw them this morning,″ she said.

The truck driver, David Griffin, was treated for minor injuries at a hospital and released.

Bodies and musical instruments were strewn along the road, and the twisted wreckage of the Explorer ended up in a ravine. The truck rig was towing a low trailer designed to carry heavy equipment.

``Everybody’s devastated,″ said Doward Jones Jr., editor of the weekly newspaper The Roanoke Beacon in Plymouth, who was one of the first people at the scene. ``The band was one of the prides of the high school.″

The crash took place about 100 miles east of Raleigh on a straight, level stretch of highway.

In southern Michigan on Tuesday, two adults and nine children under 12 were killed when their pickup truck rolled past a stop sign and was crushed by a dump truck. Two other children were critically injured.

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