A wooden cross marks the site on Hardy McManus Road on Wednesday, August 11, in Evans, where Lea Turner died Tuesday.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
A wooden cross adorned with white flowers is staked in a ditch at the site of a vehicle wreck that claimed the life of an Evans teen.
Greenbrier High School senior Lea Christine Turner, 17, was killed Tuesday morning in a two-vehicle crash that left her fiance, 21-year-old Jason Banning, in critical condition.
The white cross at the crash site now serves as a reminder of Lea. But had she lived, she would have been seen in the white of a wedding gown today.
Lea, of the 1000 block of Waltons Pass in Evans, died just before 7 a.m. on Hardy McManus Road after Banning lost control of an Acura Integra while driving Lea to school, Columbia County Sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said.
The couple planned to wed today.
"They were to pick (a marriage license) up (Tuesday) at (noon) and she was killed instead," Lea's father, Derrol Turner, said as tears welled in his eyes.
Banning, of the 4300 block of Quail Creek Road in Martinez, was driving too fast with a under-inflated front-right tire when he lost control of his Acura and drove into oncoming traffic, Capt. Morris said.
The car was struck on the passenger side by an Oldsmobile Alero driven by Martha Perry, an eighth-grade science teacher at Riverside Middle School who was on her way to work. Perry, 42, of the 7200 block of Moon Ferry Road in Appling, had only minor injuries.
Banning was airlifted to the Medical College of Georgia Hospital, where he was listed in critical condition on Wednesday, hospital spokeswoman Deborah Humphrey said.
Deputy Coroner Vernon Collins pronounced Lea dead at the scene. An autopsy performed Tuesday determined the cause of death as multiple blunt force trauma. Lea was not wearing a seatbelt, Collins said.
Lea was buried in Goose Creek, S.C., on Saturday.
Turner described his daughter as a beautiful and headstrong young woman.
"If she started off in a direction, either good or bad, that's where she continued on," he said.
Although he felt she was too young, Turner planned to support his daughter's decision to wed. He couldn't deny the joy the impending nuptials brought into Lea's life.
"The last 10 days, when they were planning to get married, was the happiest time of her life," he said.
In contrast, the atmosphere at Greenbrier High following the crash was one of gloom. The day after the wreck, most students trudged on despite their sadness, Greenbrier High Principal Sandra Carraway said.
"There were a couple of kids still visibly upset," she said. "But by and large, kids came in a more somber mood, but pretty much ready to come to school and have school."
Guidance counselors attended to several students on Tuesday and plan to help students as needs arise, Carraway said.
Lea's death continues a disturbing trend of fatal car accidents involving Columbia County teens dating back to February 2003. Her death marks the second Columbia County teen to die in a vehicle collision this year and the ninth since Feb. 28, 2003.
It is the second time in 16 months that guidance counselors have helped Greenbrier High students following a fatal wreck.
Former Greenbrier High juniors Shane Williams, 17, and Daniel Hall, 16, died on April 15, 2003, on Ashmore-Barden Road in Lincoln County while traveling to a golf tournament.
Deborah Williams, assistant superintendent of student learning in Columbia County, said feelings of loss about Lea's death might be more pronounced in some students because of the recent deaths of Shane and Daniel.
"It's more of an awakening of some of those old feelings," she said. " I'm sure (some students) feel like, 'This is happening to me again.'
"We ensure the students that they have help to see them through this time again, like we did before," she said. "We tell them it's O.K. to grieve and feel unhappy because of this tragedy."
Lea performed with Greenbrier's dance team, was a part-time model and very athletic while maintaining a 3.4 grade point average and taking advanced placement courses, Turner said.
"I pushed her so hard, maybe too hard, to go to college and get good grades," he said. "I wanted her to be independent. I tried to make her sturdy, so she could stand by herself."
Abound 6 feet tall, Lea towered over most of her classmates and once felt self-conscious about her height, Turner recalled.
"She kept walking around slouched over a couple of years ago, because she was so tall," he said. "I looked at her and said, 'What can you do about it? There's nothing you can do. You can't cut your feet off. You need to stand up and be proud'
"From that day on those shoulders went back and she was proud, like I was of her."
Nine Columbia County teens have died in vehicle wrecks in the past year and a half.
Brandon Layton, 18, Lakeside High School, Feb. 28, 2003
Shane Williams, 17, Greenbrier High School, April 15, 2003
Daniel Hall, 17, Greenbrier High School, April 15, 2003
Brad Thornton, 17, Evans High School, June 7, 2003
Keith Kroggman, 16, Evans High School, June 7, 2003
Aleisha N. Lee, 19, Harlem High School, Aug. 18, 2003
Alex Lee Inglett, 17, Harlem High School, Aug. 19, 2003
Sarah Christen Renfro, Augusta Christian Schools, Jan. 20, 2004
Lea Christine Turner, Greenbrier High School, Aug. 10, 2004
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