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Wreck reconstructors investigating Toyota involved in lethal crash

A wreck reconstruction team is trying to figure out if something went wrong with Christina Whelan's Toyota Scion before it crashed on Interstate I-85 Tuesday morning, killing the 27-year-old second-grade teacher.

Whelan, of Charlotte, was in her first year of teaching at Carr Elementary School in Dallas, after five years at Brookside Elementary in Gaston County.

Whelan's birthday is today, and students at Carr will release balloons in her memory, said Gaston County Schools spokeswoman Bonnie Reidy.

The N.C. Highway Patrol said Whelan was headed to work on southbound I-85 near Belmont when she lost control of her car. It slammed into the cement median, then went off the right side of the road and crashed into a grove of trees. Whelan was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center but died a short time later.

Witnesses told investigators they saw debris fly up in the moments just before the crash, said N.C. Highway Patrol Spokesman Trooper Mark Helms.

The reconstruction team was expected to begin scrutinizing Whelan's car Wednesday. It was unclear how long their investigation would last or when they would release results.

"They will do measurements of skid marks and road marks, but they've also got the software to plug into the black box of the car," Helms said.

The data could tell investigators if there was some sort of mechanical malfunction in the Scion, a Toyota brand geared toward younger drivers.

Since 2009, hundreds of people have sued Toyota, alleging that the company's cars sped up without the drivers pressing the accelerator. That year, Toyota recalled about 8 million of its vehicles for accelerator pedals that stuck or were trapped beneath mats.

The first of the federal lawsuits will begin to be heard in court in 2013.

No Scions were recalled related to those incidents, according to the company's website.

Whelan, who was engaged, grew up in Ellwood City, Pa., in the western part of the state, where many of her family members live. She graduated in 2006 from Slippery Rock University and moved to North Carolina to pursue a teaching career.

Staff researcher Maria David and staff writers Meghan Cooke and Steve Lyttle contributed.

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