Community gathers to remember teenage crash victims

Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Alex Schlitt of Oran, Mo., places a teddy bear next to a banner for his cousin, Alexis Cummins, 14, who was one of the teenagers killed in an automobile accident Saturday after a Ford F150 truck traveling at high speed overturned. (Elizabeth Dodd)

ORAN, Mo. -- The parking lot at Oran High School remained full of cars and people throughout the afternoon Monday as friends, faculty and members of the rural northern Scott County community gathered in memory of two teens killed in a weekend car wreck and support their families.

On Monday, one of the six teens involved in the crash, Timothy W. Abner, 19 of Marble Hill, Mo. was released from Saint Francis Medical Center, according to Emily Sikes, spokeswoman for Saint Francis. Three others remained hospitalized, Oran faculty members said.

A remembrance ceremony dedicated to Alexis M. Cummins, 14, and Austin D. Todt, 16, both of Oran, was held Sunday at the school. On Monday, between 150 and 200 students returned to discuss the loss with one another, teachers and counselors, said Oran High School principal Brian Hukel.

Near the playground fence, students worked on a "never forgotten" banner for Cummins and Todt and signed giant get well cards for the other victims of the wreck.

Ryan M. Trankler, 16, Brandon L. Phillips, 18, and Brent A. Phillips, 16, all of Oran, were recovering in the hospital Monday, all three having suffered serious injuries and broken bones, said Oran superintendent Mitch Wood.

Trankler sustained a cranial injury during the crash, and Brent Phillips underwent surgery for fractured vertebrae, Wood said.

The wreck occurred at 5:30 a.m. Sunday on Scott County Road 261, when the teenagers were heading home from night fishing.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation, but the driver, thought to have been Trankler, lost control of the Ford F150 extended cab vehicle and it overturned several times, said Sgt. Dale Moreland, spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Abner was the one passenger not thrown from the vehicle, and walked to a nearby house to call for help.

Scott County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Boyd issued a statement Monday saying he will not be making any decisions about possible charges in connection with the accident until the investigation has been completed and laboratory results were in, not expected until July.

Oran, a tight-knit community of just more than 1,200 people, has been reeling since the accident, school staff and students said.

"This whole town is grieving," said Angie Smith, a counselor at Oran High School, and a friend of the Todt family.

Though school is currently out of session, faculty have let students know the doors are open for them, Smith said.

Counselors from other schools in the region were available Sunday for students needing to talk with someone.

Talking with their friends and classmates, sharing stories and supporting one another has been the way most students have been helping one another through, Smith said.

"They're there for one another, talking, hugging, listening, sharing memories," said Tammy Gaines, an elementary counselor at Oran.

Cummins, who would have been a sophomore at Oran next year, played both softball and basketball and was an avid artist, friends and teachers said.

"She always had a smile on her face. You'd never see her upset," said Taylor Erwin, 17, of Oran.

Hukel described Cummins as quiet and soft-spoken, someone who had never been in trouble.

"I think it was very easy for her to make friends. That could be said about both of them," Hukel said.

Todt was also active in sports, having played both baseball and basketball, and loved hunting and fishing, Smith said.

An Alexis Cummins memorial scholarship fund was established Monday at Regions Bank of Oran, and a memorial fund for Todt was set up at Alliance Bank of Oran.

"It's going to be a long road to recovery. It's not over after these funerals," Smith said.


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