Amy Trogdon heard a loud noise Friday morning outside her service station near East Gaston High School.
Two vehicles had collided on Lane Road, and one was on fire.
Trogdon and about a half-dozen motorists waiting for a shipment of gasoline to arrive at her East Gaston Sunoco station ran to the burning pickup and found three teenagers inside.
They pulled the driver out of the pickup, but the two passengers died. The rescuers dragged a hose to put out the blaze, but it was about 30 feet short. So they began hauling water in trash bins and mop buckets.
“We did what we could do,” said Trogdon, 41, who knew all three students. Some people carried water to the burning wreck in any kind of container they could find, while others were “jerking doors open with crowbars,” she said.
Killed in the crash were sophomore Nicholas White, 16, and junior Travis Mintz, 16, both of Mount Holly.
The driver of the 1989 Chevrolet pickup, junior Daniel Rowland Jr., 16, of Dallas, was listed in critical condition Friday afternoon at Carolinas Medical Center.
Trooper Kasey Cornwell with the N.C. Highway Patrol said Rowland was headed away from the high school on Lane Road around 8 a.m.
“I spoke with his father, who said his son was going to get gas,” Cornwell said.
As Rowland came out of a curve, he ran off the right side of the road, overcorrected, and slid sideways into an oncoming Dodge Durango driven by Linda Hamilton, 44, of Mount Holly, Cornwell said.
He said Hamilton was taken to Carolinas Medical Center, but a hospital spokesperson said she wasn't admitted. Hamilton works in East Gaston's nutrition department.
According to Cornwell, Rowland had gotten his driver's license two weeks ago.
Inexperience and wet road conditions may have contributed to the crash, Cornwell said. He said none of the teens wore seat belts.
The speed limit on the stretch of road is 45 miles per hour. Cornwell said Rowland's rate of speed is still under investigation.
East Gaston Principal Marty Starnes said all three students were “great kids.”
“The school is in total and complete shock,” he said. “We're all just reeling. These students were very well liked. This is such a loss.”
Bonnie Reidy, spokeswoman for Gaston County Schools, said grief counselors were at East Gaston on Friday and will return on Monday. A memorial service will be announced later, she said.
“The community is very tightly knit. It's like a family,” Reidy said. “This tragedy has touched the entire community. Our sympathies and prayers go out to the families of the students.”
The Friday football game between East Gaston and South Point high schools was postponed and rescheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday.
The wreck was especially personal for Trogdon, who is vice president of the East Gaston Boosters Club. Her 16-year-old son plays football for the school, and he also knew the three teens in the wreck. East Gaston students are regular customers at the Sonoco station, and “I love them all,” Trogdon said.
“They all live around here,” she said. “They're part of the community.”
“It was a blessing to see everybody pull together,” Trogdon said.
She wishes they could have done more.
“I'm grieving for them (students), their families, friends and the community,” Trogdon said. “My heart goes out to them.”