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Town mourns five cheerleaders who died

A fiery head-on collision killed five women in a sport utility vehicle less than a week after they graduated from a high school in a Rochester suburb, the principal said Wednesday.
Keisha Koneski, right, is comforted by her boyfriend Mike Danylyshyn, both recent graduates of Fairport High School, on Wednesday after five of their friends, also recent graduates, were killed in a car accident.
Keisha Koneski, right, is comforted by her boyfriend Mike Danylyshyn, both recent graduates of Fairport High School, on Wednesday after five of their friends, also recent graduates, were killed in a car accident.Kris J. Murante / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

They were giddy after a weekend of high school graduation parties, still reminiscing about their triumph at a national cheerleading contest, and were lining up a farewell summer of pool parties and sleep-overs before heading off to college.

Five teens, on their way to a vacation home Tuesday night, were in a sport utility vehicle that had just passed a van on a two-lane highway when it swerved back into oncoming traffic and hit a tractor-trailer. All were killed in the fiery crash, which four friends traveling in another car witnessed.

“We cheerleaded together and we were all best friends,” said Keisha Koneski, 18. “In our car, we could see the truck coming, and we all started screaming.”

The tragedy in western New York’s Finger Lakes region happened just five days after the teens graduated from Fairport High School, triggering an outpouring of emotion in this Erie Canal village of 6,000 near Rochester.

“It could be any five that were lost; we would grieve the same,” said Debra Tandoi, a town official who works in the village’s schools. “Our hearts just explode.”

Killed were Bailey Goodman and Meredith McClure, both 17, and 18-year-olds Sara Monnat, Hannah Congdon and Katherine “Katie” Shirley. All five were cheerleaders on Fairport High’s varsity team, but Shirley left the squad in her freshman year.

'Our hearts are broken'
In March, the cheerleading team took first place in its category at the American Open National Cheer and Dance Championship in Orlando, Fla. McClure placed second in solo cheering in the 16-to-18-year-old bracket. The team also placed in several regional and state competitions this year.

Ontario County Sheriff Phil Povero said the driver of the SUV may have overcorrected after going too far to the right.

The SUV and the truck careered into a roadside fence next to a bed-and-breakfast outside the village of East Bloomfield and caught fire, shooting flames at least 20 feet into the air. The SUV ended up crushed and charred in a shallow ditch partially underneath the truck.

An overhanging maple tree was scorched, and blackened debris littered the road Wednesday morning. The crash knocked down a utility line and cut phone service in the western half of Ontario County. The truck driver, Dave Laverty, 50, was not injured.

“It’s a community nightmare,” school Principal Dave Paddock said. “Our hearts are broken. We love our kids and are crying.”

'Always there for me'
Scores of students, teachers and parents, many of them hugging and weeping, gathered on a grassy hillside overlooking the school on Wednesday morning. A giant “’07” had been painted on the hill by senior pranksters two weeks ago.

The nine women were planning a sleep-over at a cottage along Keuka Lake owned by Bailey Goodman’s parents, said Koneski, who befriended her when she moved to Fairport from a nearby suburb four years ago.

“She made me her best friend in eighth grade when I moved to Fairport High,” Koneski said. “She helped me make friends and she was always there for me, no matter what. All of us have just been best friends since then.

“We took pictures of each other; we used to just hang out in other people’s houses,” she said. “Especially when it’s warm, we always have pool parties and stuff and have all our friends over.”

Goodman, who was driving the SUV, had been trying for a few minutes to pass a van that was going only about 40 mph, Koneski said. “When Bailey started passing, it looked like the van was speeding up because she was next to the van for a really long time,” she said.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation, but Povero said no witnesses had given any indication the van sped up “to avoid being passed.”

“We’ll certainly take this into consideration and follow this up,” he said. The van driver was interviewed, and no one was ticketed, police said.

Autopsies were being conducted, including routine tests for the presence of drugs or alcohol, Povero said.