Empty seats at two Gaston County high school graduations on Saturday will honor a pair of popular seniors whose lives were cut short this week.
Arielle Reid, 18, an honor student at Highland School of Technology, died in a car wreck Sunday shortly after the baccalaureate service.
Jaquez D’Andre Hunter-Cathey, 19, a championship wrestler at East Gaston High, drowned Wednesday while swimming with friends in Mountain Island Lake.
The joy of graduation will be tempered by a sense of loss.
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“It will be a time of mixed emotions,” said Todd Hagans, spokesman for Gaston County Schools. “It’s a time of celebration for students who graduate, but also a time to remember and honor the two students who were lost this week.”
The N.C. Highway Patrol is still investigating the cause of the wreck that killed Reid.
Trooper J.J. Letcavage said a 2014 Mercedez-Benz, driven by her father, Michael Reid, ran off Lowland Dairy Road north of Mount Holly around 5 p.m. Sunday.
The vehicle struck several trees and came to rest on its roof. Arielle Reid, who was riding in the front passenger seat, died at the scene.
Letcavage said driver fatigue may have been a factor in the wreck, but no charges had been filed by Friday. He said the car’s air bags didn’t deploy. Mercedez-Benz was sending an engineer to investigate and also help download data from the vehicle’s computer system.
Meanwhile, Arielle Reid will be in the thoughts of many teachers and students at Saturday’s graduation.
Highland Principal Denise McLean said Reid was an outstanding student who planned to attend N.C. State University.
Recalling Reid’s fondness for colorful tennis shoes and bow ties, McLean said seniors voted her the best-dressed member of the class.
“She had a big fetish for tennis shoes,” McLean said. “She was always so colorful and stylish.”
Dental science teacher Lynn Hamm taught Reid all four years at Highland and called her “a beautiful soul.”
In honor of Reid at graduation, there will be an empty seat with her cap, gown and a rose. Hamm will walk across the stage with Reid’s little brother, Zion, to get the diploma.
The sassy girl with a bowtie will be on Hamm’s mind.
“I was blessed to have her,” she said.
Gaston County Police reported that on Wednesday Hunter-Cathey went to Mountain Island Lake with several friends and was last seen swimming in a cove. Divers found his body near that area.
Brad McKee, head wrestling coach at East Gaston High, called Hunter-Cathey “a fantastic wrestler and great all-around individual.”
“He had a positive spirit,” said McKee, who thinks the young wrestler inspired others. “Everybody liked him. He left a mark – to use your time very wisely.”
Valedictorian and wrestling team member Mark Bedard plans to mention his friend in his speech but it won’t be laced with sadness.
“D’Andre would want people to be happy,” he said.