5 Children Die In Georgia Tragedy

David Varnedore looks down the road Monday, Sept. 22. 2003, near Douglas, Ga., where two of his children and three of their friends were killed Saturday night. A sixth child was critically injured. The children crowded onto an all-terrain vehicle for a ride and were struck head-on by a car. AP

Volunteer firefighter David Varnedore rushed to the scene of a car accident prepared to help strangers in need. Then he came across the body of his own son. And then the body of his elder daughter.

Varnedore's two children were among five youngsters killed Saturday night when a car on a curving road struck an all-terrain vehicle the kids had crowded onto during a birthday party. A sixth child was critically injured.

When Varnedore got to the scene, his son Dustin, 11, was lying face down in a pool of blood. "There was no hope for him," Varnedore recalled Monday, gasping with emotion between every word.

A few feet away, Varnedore found his daughter, Kayla, 13. "My daughter was laying face up and I did CPR on her to no avail," said Varnedore, who lives only a mile away.

The other victims were Lindsay Joiner, 13 of Douglas; Courtney Arsenault, 10, of Alma; and the ATV's driver, Coranne Megan Nelson, 14. Another partygoer, Heather Bass, 13, was listed in critical condition Monday.

The car's driver, Amanda Michelle Troupe, 29, of Ambrose, could face charges, investigators said. They were awaiting the results of blood tests on whether she had been drinking.

Troupe, whose car crossed the center line before hitting the four-wheeler, was injured in the crash, but her condition was not immediately disclosed. Two other people in the car suffered minor injuries, police said.

Residents of the rural area said the children had attended Nelson's birthday party and decided to celebrate afterward by going for a ride on her ATV.

The off-road vehicle was built for one adult rider, said Gordy Wright, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Public Safety. None of the youngsters was wearing a helmet and Nelson should not have been driving the vehicle on a public road.

"It's just an awful tragedy," said Mayor Max Lockwood. "All the families hope this leads to a better understanding of safety. The kids were in a rural neighborhood, and children just like to hop on those things and ride around in the country."

Varnedore returned to the scene Monday afternoon with his parents, Carol and David Varnedore Sr. About a dozen others gathered there to mourn the young victims.

Dots of orange paint, left by the accident investigators, traced the car's skid marks and blue flags marked the spots where bodies were found. Painted orange circles showed where the car hit the ATV and where key parts of the vehicles had landed.

"You see that spot of blood? That was my son," said the 30-year-old truck driver who became a volunteer firefighter when he was 16. "You see this spot of orange paint? That was my daughter."

Before hurrying home to console his wife and to be with their remaining child, a 2-year-old daughter, Varnedore said the mangled bodies he saw in the ditch made him throw up.

"I won't even tell you what I saw," he said.

The ditch and roadside were littered for about 75 yards with bits of clothing, including a blue and gray tennis shoe, a cloth ponytail holder, a baseball cap and the car's badly mangled front bumper.

The impact of the collision along the two-lane road knocked some candy the young victims had gotten at the party from their pockets and left it scattered along the road.

The accident occurred on a road that separates Coffee and Irwin counties, about 10 miles northwest of Douglas, officials said. The collision happened on a road bordered on one side by forest and the other by pasture.

Donna Reynolds, a safety specialist with the Georgia Farm Bureau, said she often sees children and adults riding ATVs on roads. "People are riding ATVs everywhere and people look at them as a toy," she said. "They are not toys. Period."

At West Coffee Middle School, which four of the children attended, counselors went into classrooms Monday to talk to students. The pupils wrote condolence cards to the families.
  • Dan Collins

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