CHEROKEE COUNTY, Okla. – A community is in shock following the deaths of five teenagers near Tahlequah.
Troopers with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol were called to an accident around 10:40 p.m. on Sunday night on the Welling Bridge.
Investigators say a pickup truck carrying five teenagers drove through a railing on the bridge and fell 35 feet into the river below.
Crews pulled the bodies of 18-year-old Donovan Caldwell, 18-year-old Jessica Swartwout, 19-year-old Drake Wells, 18-year-old Lily Murphy and 18-year-old Rihana Seely from the vehicle.
Officials say all five teenagers were students at Northeastern State University.
“Just before 1:00 am, I was contacted by Campus Police and informed that five NSU students were killed in an auto accident in proximity to the Welling Bridge, south of Tahlequah. The news was devastating and crushing.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol reports the driver was 18-year-old Donovan Caldwell of Muskogee. The passengers were identified as 18-year-old Jessica Swartwout of McAlester; 19-year-old Drake Wells of Thackerville; 18-year-old Rhianna Seely of Salina and 18-year-old Lily Murphy of Gentry, AR. Their families have been notified.
I cannot fathom the pain the families and friends of these young people are going through as a result of this terrible and tragic accident. My thoughts and prayers are with them this morning.
Activities have been underway throughout the night to provide counselors for the friends and co-students. Notification of the faculty who taught the students is underway. If you feel you need help in any way, please contact HawkReach Counseling Services at 918-444-2042 or Student Affairs at 918-444-2120. I have every confidence in the compassion of the NSU family to pull together and support those who are experiencing so much pain and sadness.
This will have a profound effect on all of us and Northeastern State University for many years to come. Supporting our students, faculty and staff will remain our top priority.
The NSU Community will be updated regarding memorial services and other related details as they become available,” a statement from the president of NSU read.
At this point, what caused the crash is still under investigation.
A candlelight vigil is planned for Monday night at 7:30 p.m. at Second Century Square on the NSU campus.