By Nathan Mayberg
SACKETT LAKE June 18, 2004 Grief has enveloped the Monticello area following a horrific car accident earlier this week.
Three Monticello High School students were killed Tuesday after a 2004 Mercury Mountaineer driven by 17-year-old Brett Cabrera of Rock Hill veered off Sackett Lake Road, hitting a telephone pole and apple tree around 4:30 p.m.
Sierra Cerrone, 14 of Harris; Ashley Morgan, 15 of Monticello; and Maximilian Gonzalez, 18 of Monticello, were all pronounced dead at the scene by County Coroner Michael Speer. Sullivan County Sheriffs Detective Joseph Starner described the cause of death as a result of massive traumatic injuries.
Both girls were killed after being ejected from the SUV when it sliced a telephone pole and hit an apple tree. Gonzalez died after being partially ejected, according to Starner.
Passenger Santiago Mendoza, 17 of Monticello, was flown to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla with serious internal and facial injuries. He was in surgery for about five and a half hours and is listed in critical condition, said authorities.
Sullivan County Undersheriff Joseph Decker described Mendozas condition as critical but stable. He is suffering from head and chest injuries, said Decker.
Cabrera was driven to Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris, where he was described by Starner as in fair condition with unspecified head injuries. Although he is in the hospitals critical care unit, he has already been interviewed by the police.
Officials at the scene believe the accident occurred because the SUV was going too fast on Sackett Lake Road. A long stretch of the county road heads straight down until a short turn. The speed limit is 55 miles per hour, but there is a suggested speed limit of 45 miles per hour approaching the turn.
The SUV skidded for more than 200 feet before going off the road. Officials at the scene believe the car was in a diagonal position as it hit the grass. Decker believes the vehicle went airborne and knocked into the telephone pole.
One official at the scene believed the car hit the pole near the top of the rear passenger side. He pointed to the impact mark, as well as a lack of impact marks on the passenger side, as evidence.
It was postulated at the scene that the driver could have avoided going off the road if he hadnt turned the wheel so aggressively coming around the bend. Police added that if the individuals had been wearing seatbelts, there might not have been any fatalities. (Although Cabrera reportedly cannot recall whether seatbelts were worn, police do not believe anyone had them on.)
The five teens were reportedly on their way to the launch at Swinging Bridge Reservoir, a popular hangout spot. No alcohol was found at the scene, and Starner said there was no drinking that investigators were aware of. However, the investigation continues.
Only recently, another driver had skidded off the same spot on the road for more than 60 feet, before safely straightening out their car. The marks were clearly visible.
Starner said the area is patrolled by the Sheriff's Department. He laid the blame for the calamity on driver inexperience and excessive speeding. . . . He totally lost control.
Tragic and horrible is how the detective characterized the events.
State Police investigators are presently completing their reconstruction of the events. Starner expects those results to yield more information on how the accident unfolded.
Police were assisted at the scene by MobileMedic and Monticellos fire department and ambulance corps.
Friends of the teens paid their respects at a makeshift memorial at the site of the crash on Wednesday. Several flowers were laid in front of where the car landed.
They didnt deserve this, said Monticello sophomore Sam Hellman. They were very nice girls.
Cerrone was dating Mendoza, said Hellman and others, and Morgan was going out with Gonzalez.
Angelo Cracchiolo said Sierra was a friend of his familys. Her friends were taking it really bad, he remarked.
Jillian Bell, who knew all involved and is an eighth grader at Robert Kaiser Middle School, recalled Sierra as somebody who had everything going for her a beautiful girl who lived a perfect life, said she and classmate Ashley Banks.
She was the girl that everyone wanted to be . . . a straight-A student. . . . I dont understand how this happened.
Banks said that fellow students were taking the news horribly. . . . School was a mess today. It was hard to concentrate. . . . Everybody was crying.
Counselors were available for students who were distraught. Those who were not able to take their final, were offered another day to complete their tests.
Fellow students stated that Cabrera had not been attending Monticello prior to the accident. Banks described Gonzalez as always happy. . . . You would never see him with a frown. She called Mendoza very happy and described Morgan as a girl who had a perfect life.
Indeed, the whole Village of Monticello was grieving this week, with even the village and Town of Thompson boards extending condolences to the families.