A teenage boy and his female prom date were heading to the Dowagiac Union High School Junior-Senior Prom when the couple lost control of their GMC Jimmy SUV, clipped a second vehicle, snapped a 30 foot tall tree, and flipped off the rural roadway.
The wreck occurred at 7:16 p.m. Saturday along Peavine St., near the intersection of Oak Grove Rd., just southeast of Dowagiac city limits in LaGrange Township Cass County.
Witnesses report Shawn Haley, 16, of Dowagiac, was driving westbound on Peavine St. when he attempted to illegally pass another vehicle traveling in the same direction.
Haley and his date, Katelyn Brooks, 17, also of Dowagiac, had to be extricated using the Jaws of Life, from the badly battered SUV.
MedFlight airlifted Haley to Memorial Hospital in South Bend with serious facial injuries including a broken nose and damaged eye-socket. Paramedics initially took Brooks to Dowagiac Borgess Lee Memorial Hospital with shoulder injuries and deep cuts, but later transferred her to Memorial Hospital. Monday afternoon, doctors upgraded Haley from serious to fair condition and Brooks from serious to good condition.
NewsCenter 16 spoke with other high school students who were following in a separate vehicle when the crash occurred. Some of those teens happen to be volunteer firefighters, and aided in initial rescue efforts prior to the arrival of additional emergency workers.
With the advent of social media and text messages, word and photos of the crash site traveled quickly to the Fred L. Matthews Library on the Southwestern Michigan College campus, where roughly 225 classmates were celebrating a Caribbean-themed junior-senior prom. Counselors were called in to keep a sense of normalcy, and relative fun, during high school's grandest social event of the year.
By Monday morning, the guidance office was busy again today at Dowagiac Union, as counselors comforted Haley and Brooks’ closest friends. Principal Pieter Hoekstra told NewsCenter 16, both teens are good students who have long been active in the school's auto shop program.
With special accommodations, administrators say Haley, a junior, should be able to pass his spring semester finals. Brooks, a senior, is expected to graduate with her Chieftain classmates come the Sunday June 2 commencement ceremonies on the high school’s football field.
Deputies with the Cass County Sheriff's Department say both teens were wearing their seatbelts. By the looks of the mangled vehicle, officers say that split second decision saved their lives.
Later this week, crash investigators plan to file a search warrant for Haley's blood work taken Saturday night at Memorial Hospital. The move is a matter of protocol to determine if alcohol played any role in this wreck.
Pride Care, MedFlight, Dowagiac Fire and Pokagon Tribal Police assisted deputies at the scene of the crash, which remains under investigation.
Brooks was released from Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, while her boyfriend is showing signs of continued improvement and is listed in fair condition.