Two Grand County teenagers were killed and three others were critically injured in a single-vehicle rollover accident in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 5.
According to San Juan County Sheriff’s Office investigators, the driver of a 2003 Subaru Impreza lost control on a curve on the La Sal Mountain Loop Road just south of Ken’s Lake sometime before 7:30 a.m. on Sunday. None of the occupants were believed to be wearing seat belts, and three were ejected from the vehicle during the accident.
Connor Denney, 16, and Taylor Bryant, 14 were pronounced dead at the scene, San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge said. Denney was a sophomore and Bryant was a freshman at Grand County High School.
Daniel McCrary, a 17-year-old sophomore at GCHS, was also ejected from the car during the crash and was critically injured. Gage Moore, 17, a GCHS senior, and Tierney DeMille, 14, an eighth-grade student at Grand County Middle School, were not thrown from the vehicle but were also listed in critical condition, Eldridge said in a news release.
The three surviving teens were taken to Moab Regional Hospital initially, then flown out to larger hospitals to receive treatment for their injuries. Moore and McCrary are hospitalized at St. Mary’s in Grand Junction, Colorado, DeMille was transported to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.
The incident occurred the morning after the high school’s annual junior promenade dance, which featured 42 couples, in addition to hundreds of their family members and friends who gathered to watch. The five teens involved in the wreck had reportedly attended the dance as audience members.
It’s unknown where the teens were between late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, and what they were doing, and the San Juan Sheriff’s Office is asking for the public’s help in piecing together the events preceding the accident.
“If anybody has information that pertains to this investigation, if they’ve seen the kids earlier that night or morning ... any information, we ask them to come forward and contact the sheriff,” Eldridge said. “They can remain anonymous.”
San Juan County Sheriff’s office and the Utah Highway Patrol are investigating the accident. Investigators haven’t released their final findings yet, but said excessive speed and alcohol may have been contributing factors.
“We’re analyzing DNA, and analyzing evidence at the scene,” Eldridge told The Times-Independent. “And we’re looking into investigative subpoenas. We have to be patient; it might be up to two to three weeks as to when we get some answers, as to when we know exactly what happened. We asked Utah Highway Patrol to assist us [in the investigation]. They’ve done all the drawings and compiled the information as far as the crash scene is concerned. We’re doing the investigation — where they were seated, who was driving. It’s a cooperative effort between highway patrol and the [State Bureau of Investigation].”
Eldridge said he and the San Juan County Attorney will be “aggressive” in following up with efforts to prosecute if the investigation determines that laws were broken in connection with the crash.
“It’s a senseless tragedy that didn’t have to happen. Myself and the county attorney, we’re going to be aggressive if there’s a need for somebody to be prosecuted, if there were crimes committed,” Eldridge said. “ ... That’s to be determined at this time.”
On Sunday afternoon, a few hours after the fatal crash was reported, an emergency faculty meeting for high school and middle school staff members was held in the GCHS auditorium. The following morning high school students reported to the auditorium at the beginning of the day for an assembly, where GCHS Principal Stephen Hren notified the students of what had happened. Numerous parents and other community members attended the meeting.
“The main thing we want you to know is that we love you and care about you,” said high school counselor Derrick Cook, who spoke to the students about the grieving process. He and other counselors went around to different classes, providing support and comfort.
The mood at the school was somber and subdued Monday, and many students were seen comforting each other throughout the day.
Hren encouraged students and their families to not be afraid to ask for help in dealing with the tragedy, and urged them to be there for each other and support one other. He also encouraged the students to avoid spreading unfounded rumors and speculation.
“We really don’t know what happened and we don’t need to be putting out speculation, especially on social media because it’s only going to be hurtful to the families involved,” Hren said.
He told The Times-Independent March 8 that school district therapists and others from Four Corners Community Behavioral Health are available at the high school and middle school to help students and faculty members cope with the tragedy.
“It’s been a rough few days ...,” Hren said. “ ... We learned through having to deal with these situations in the past, a lot of times students don’t just want to go to the counselor by themselves ... So the counselors would go to the specific classrooms ... sit in and if there were kids noticeably upset they would talk to them. Some of the kids will take walks with some of the teachers and counselors ... Those kids that are closest to them are going to take a lot more time to deal with it. We have to be vigilant.”
Grand County School District Superintendent Scott Crane said counseling services will be made available as long as needed.
“The most important thing is we’re trying to meet the grieving needs of our students and teachers ... We’re allowing the students to grieve in the fashion they feel is best ...” Crane said. “It’s been a very tough week. It’s been very difficult ... These deaths — you don’t recover very quickly from that. It’s a stressful, emotional time. It’s going to take a long time to heal. I hope the community would come together and support our staff and students in their grieving process.”
Bryant was a rising star for the Lady Devils basketball team, which just completed its season last month.
“Taylor had a love and passion for the game which was on display every time she stepped out on the court, whether in a game or in practice,” said her coach, Randy Martin. “She was a tough, smart player, who was not afraid to put the ball on the floor and drive into traffic and could play rugged defense on anyone. She played fearless,” Martin added.
Haley Rice, a close friend of one of the injured teens, Gage Moore, said he is always helping others.
“He’s always getting everyone else excited to do something. He doesn’t sit still and he is the guy who will drop anything and everything he’s doing to help someone,” Rice said in a message to The Times-Independent. “He loves really hard and is stubborn as hell but one of the best people in my life.”
Funeral services for Taylor Bryant will be held Monday March 13, at 1:00 p.m. at the Moab LDS Stake Center, 701 Locust Lane, with a viewing taking place starting at 11 a.m. at the church.
Denney also loved athletics and was a member of the GCHS baseball team. A memorial service for Denney has been scheduled for Tuesday, March 14, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the high school baseball field.
A candlelight vigil for both Bryant and Denney was held Wednesday, March 8 at 7 p.m. at the high school football field.
Accounts have been set up in the names of Daniel McCrary, Taylor Bryant, Gage Moore, Tierney Dimille and Connor Denney at Mountain America Credit Union.
Times-Independent reporter Jeff Richards contributed to this story.