Posted on Jun 17, 2007

Virginia State Police (VSP) said alcohol was found inside a vehicle where four girls were killed and one was seriously wounded June 14 on the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia. VSP did not say whether alcohol was a factor in the crash. The fatal accident occurred in an area known as the “Springfield Mixing Bowl,” where the Beltway (Interstate 495) intersects with Interstates 95 and 395. Every day, 430,000 vehicles pass through this Springfield Interchange. It has been under construction since December 2000.

VSP said the case is now a criminal investigation. Since no passenger in the vehicle was 21 years of age, police are investigating who bought or gave the girls the alcohol.

Driver Changed Lanes Into Path of Truck

The five girls in the Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible had left a downtown District of Columbia all-night graduation party sponsored by West Potomac High School at the ESPN Zone. The party was scheduled from midnight until 4 a.m. Buses were scheduled to leave the Alexandria school at 11 p.m. and return to the school at 5 a.m.

The driver of the car, identified as Elaine Thaxton, had been arrested and charged with DUI on the Fairfax County Parkway in June of 2006. She temporarily lost her driver's license. On the night of the Beltway tragedy, Thackston's Volkswagen was traveling westbound on the Inner Loop. Next is where reports conflict one another.

One says the driver exited left onto the ramp for I-95, then swerved back through a safety zone back onto the Beltway, when she was hit from behind by a tractor-trailer. The other report said the driver decided at the last moment to exit left onto the ramp for I-95 and when she did so, veered through the safety zone and into the path of an oncoming semi already on the exit ramp to I-95. The 42-year-old driver of the truck involved in the crash was not injured or charged by VSP.

Beltway Road Paving Had Closed Two Lanes

Steve Titunik, Virginia Department of Transportation spokesman, said only one lane was open for through traffic at the scene of the accident. The two right-hand lanes were shut down for a repaving operation. He said traffic was slowed down in that area at the time of the crash.

Police identified the victims as Thackston, 20, a student at George Mason University; Sarah Renee Carter, 19, who recently graduated from West Potomac High School; and Lydia Margaret Petkoff and Renee Shelkin, both of whom graduated from West Potomac the previous day. Three of the girls were ejected from the car and died instantly. A fourth passenger died at the scene. The fifth passenger, 17-year-old Jenna Rexroat, survived non-life threatening injuries and is at Fairfax Hospital.

West Potomac High School Principal Rima Veslind sent a letter to teachers Friday morning, which read: "This morning we must go forward with our final exam testing. However, there will be students who are aware of last night's accident and may melt down. You can decide what is best for your students about their finals. If a student is not able to test, you can choose to either waive the final or give partial credit for whatever they are able to do.”

Renee Shelkin was to become a freshman this fall at Virginia Tech. Her grandfather, Barry Shelkin, said the teenager had focus. "She had everything planned. She knew what she wanted, and she went after it.”

Bob Battle
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