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School grieves for teen in crash
Wesley Chapel High has seen its share of tragedy in the past school year.
By HELEN ANNE TRAVIS, Times Staff Writer
Published August 31, 2007
Matthew Laidley, 17, died in Wednesday's SUV crash.
Adam Sanford, 17, was at the wheel before the wreck.
Katelin Kaiser, 17, is in serious but stable condition.
WESLEY CHAPEL - Students gathered at the Wesley Chapel High School flagpole Thursday morning to honor the memory of one friend and pray for the recovery of two others.
For some students, it was a repeat of something they did several times last year.
At least six Wesley Chapel High School students and recent graduates died during the 2006-07 school year. Now, less than two weeks into the 2007-08 session, students are again in mourning.
Senior Matthew Laidley, 17, died at about 4 p.m. Wednesday after the red Isuzu Trooper he was riding in rolled over on Curley Road near Pine Top Way in Wesley Chapel, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The car's driver, Adam Sanford, 17, passenger, Katelin Kaiser, 17, and Laidley were transported by air to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa.
Kaiser and Sanford, also seniors at Wesley Chapel High, were listed in serious but stable condition Thursday afternoon, said Trooper Larry E. Coggins, the FHP spokesman. Due to requests made by the teenagers' families, St. Joseph's could not verify their conditions.
Kaiser and Sanford's families could not be reached for comment.
The accident occurred a little after 2 p.m. Wednesday. Sanford was driving the SUV south on Curley Road, Coggins said. Sanford was speeding when he passed other cars by using a turn lane and then the shoulder. When he attempted to get back on the road, Coggins said, Sanford lost control and the Trooper rolled over, possibly numerous times.
Though the students at Wesley Chapel High are grieving for Laidley, they don't blame Sanford for the accident, said Andy Frelick, the school's principal.
"In a situation like this, some people could get angry at the driver," he said. "But they're not. Officials said it was an accident."
Frelick found out about the crash from a bus driver during dismissal Wednesday. Some students, he said, saw the accident occur.
A crisis team of grief counselors gathered at the school that night and met with students until after 9 p.m. Many students came for support after visiting Sanford and Kaiser in the hospital.
"We have a large team on hand helping the kids," said Frelick. Some of the counselors are from Wesley Chapel High, others are from elsewhere in the county.
Grief counselors are no strangers to Wesley Chapel High. Last year they flooded the school when one student died in an auto accident, two were found shot to death execution-style and another perished with his father in a ultralight plane crash.
Now the counselors are back, helping students mourn Laidley, a huge New York Yankees fan, good friend and serious student.
Frelick said Laidley was liked by his peers. He was also very focused on his studies.
"He wanted to take the most A.P. classes in Wesley Chapel High School history," said Frelick.
Laidley and his family moved to Wesley Chapel seven years ago from Westchester County, New York.
His mother, Maria, said she often talked to her son about the dangers of driving. She considered the area particularly dangerous.
"I hated living here because of the horrible, horrible roads," Maria Laidley said Thursday. "I was so afraid of this place, it ate him alive."
Matt had co nsidered attending Rutgers University; he wanted to study aeronautical engineering.
"My little boy, the rocket scientist," Maria Laidley said through tears.
She plans to bring her son's body to New York.
"I have to bury my baby back there."
FHP is still investigating the accident. Drugs and alcohol are not factors, and the three students were wearing seat belts.
"We have a clear-cut case of excessive speed and careless driving on the driver's part," said Coggins.
Charges are pending.
Staff researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Helen Anne Travis can be reached at (352) 521-6518 or firstname.lastname@example.org