BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (AP) — Flowers were left outside a Bowling Green State University sorority house and state troopers dropped off luggage retrieved from the highway as the school started spring break by mourning the deaths of three students killed when their car was slammed into by a wrong-way driver on an Ohio interstate.
The vehicle had traveled the wrong way for several miles and was being pursued by police when it narrowly missed one car full of sorority sisters, then collided into another early Friday on Interstate 75 south of Toledo, Ohio state troopers said.
The crash killed the three students and the wrong-way driver, whose vehicle was engulfed in flames. Two surviving sorority sisters were in critical condition Friday night at a Toledo hospital.
The five Alpha Xi Delta members were just miles from the school as they caravanned with 11 other sisters in separate cars to the Detroit airport for a spring break trip to the Dominican Republic. Spring break began Saturday for the university of about 18,000 students, located about 30 miles south of Toledo.
Sophomore Christina Goyett, who was among those killed, had visited with her family in Michigan hours earlier at a surprise 60th birthday party for her mother, said Dee Bishop, a family friend. The 19-year-old from Bay City, Mich., was studying teacher education and was excited about her first trip to the Caribbean country.
"She was an absolutely wonderful, positive, happy person," Bishop said.
Also killed were Sarah Hammond, 21, a junior from Yellow Springs, Ohio, majoring in apparel merchandising, and Rebekah Blakkolb, 20, a junior from Aurora, Ohio, the university said.
A friend said they had been trying to make a 5:30 a.m. flight.
"I don't think the college girls ever saw it coming. Nothing they could have done to avoid the crash," Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said.
The wrong-way driver, Winifred D. Lein, 69, of Perrysburg, Ohio, was traveling alone and was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said. Investigators are looking into why she was driving on the wrong side of the divided highway, and 911 and police radio traffic indicate she had been heading the wrong direction for at least seven miles. A message was left at a phone listing for her.
Students held each other Friday afternoon outside the sorority house, a stately brick building with a columned porch and white shutters. Members of the sorority of about 65 students wouldn't speak to reporters.
The injured were identified as Angelica Mormile, 19, a freshman from Garfield Heights, Ohio, and Kayla Somoles, 19, a sophomore from Cleveland.
"In this case, it's just one of those tragedies that's hard to understand," university Provost Rodney Rogers said. "We're reminded in these times that life is very precious."
Truckers had reported the wrong-way driver, and a state highway patrol officer had seen her vehicle and begun a pursuit when the crash happened around 2:30 a.m. on a rise in the interstate. The highway is divided by a wide, raised grassy median. Initial police calls said people were trapped.
The accident recalled a similar tragedy 10 years ago, when six Bowling Green students were killed while returning home from a spring break trip to Florida. The students, all 19, were returning from Panama City on March 15, 2002, when their minivan slid into oncoming traffic and was struck by a tractor-trailer.
Authorities said severe winds and heavy rain may have contributed to the crash, which happened on Interstate 71 in Kentucky.
The sorority sisters' deaths were the second school tragedy in five days in Ohio. Three students were fatally shot Monday and two others seriously wounded at Chardon High School east of Cleveland. A 17-year-old was charged.
Associated Press writers Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus contributed to this report.