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Girl, 17, fatally crushed by rock Heat from campfire loosened 4-ton slab, according to officials


A 17-year-old Clarksville girl enjoying the season's first snow with a group of friends Wednesday night was crushed to death by a 4-ton rock loosened by heat radiating from a small fire.

Katie Hurley, a senior at River Hill High School, died at the scene, behind a new housing development in Highland, officials said. No one else was injured.

Hurley and a group of 12 teen-age friends were riding 4x4 off-road vehicles in the snow Wednesday night, over ridges and doing peel-outs in suburban culs-de-sac. About 9: 30, they made a campfire under a large rock overhang, obscured from nearby homes by a small ridge.

Later while some in the group rode their off-roaders, Hurley and others stayed to talk. About 11: 30 p.m., as several friends walked away, the slab of rock fell to the ground, striking Hurley and missing another teen sitting nearby, officials said.

Friends struggled to lift the heavy rock, but failed. They ran to a nearby home on Springdale Drive in Highland, where a neighbor called 911.

"I didn't hear anything," said Rob Smith, 18, who had just walked away when the slab fell. "I yelled for help. We panicked, and we tried to pick it up."

Heat from the fire expanded water frozen in cracks, which broke the rock and caused two giant slabs to fall, officials said. The rock was a popular place to hang out, teen-agers said, and on previous visits pieces of rock had fallen.

Yesterday, a dozen friends gathered at the site, huddling to ward off the cold. Some had been there the night before. Others needed the comfort of those who knew a girl who helped her friends.

"Everybody loved her," said Rene Curtis, 16. "She would be there anytime you wanted."

Described as fun-loving and vivacious, Hurley dressed as a "gangster girl" for Halloween and went trick-or-treating, Curtis said.

In addition to being outgoing and funny, friends said, Hurley always offered a shoulder to lean on.

When Jill Smith, 18, broke up with a boyfriend, she said Hurley gave her valuable advice and held her hand. "She said if it was meant to be, it would happen again," Jill Smith said. "She said everything happens for a reason."

Hurley's family declined to comment yesterday.

Friends said Hurley is survived by her mother, Bonnie; father, Alfred; and three siblings, including a sister who is a junior at River Hill. Her mother, friends said, is battling ovarian cancer.

In school, Hurley played varsity volleyball and worked as an assistant in the guidance office, runningmessages to teachers and offering advice to students. She was also a baby sitter, life guard and enthusiastic swimmer and once bench-pressed 140 pounds, friends said.

River Hill Principal Scott Pfeifer recalled a tough senior who jokingly traded barbs with him about everything, even his neckties.

"We had a fun relationship," he said. "She was outspoken and had a lot going for her. We're going to miss her a lot. I'm going to miss her a lot."

River Hill High School will be open to students from noon until 3 p.m. tomorrow for grief counseling, Pfeifer said.

Hurley had planned to attend college in Florida, friends said. She was excited about her birthday in May, friends said.

Hurley, who was adopted, would finally have been allowed to meet her birth mother.

"When she turns 18, she said she would get the papers and be able to see her mother," said Brad Thompson, 17, who was with Hurley the night she died.

Pub Date: 12/25/98

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