Howard County police said yesterday that they found alcohol in the wreckage of the single-car accident that killed a Mount Hebron High School senior and injured two schoolmates as they drove to a school dance Friday night.
The metallic gray 2005 Volkswagen Beetle, driven by senior Theresa Rayburn, 17, failed to negotiate a left curve on Old Frederick Road (Route 99) a little more than a mile from the school and slammed into a row of evergreen trees about 9 p.m. Rayburn's best friend, Michele Iampieri, 18, was killed instantly.
Rayburn, a 17-year-old senior and the only one wearing a seat belt, remained in critical condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center yesterday, said a hospital spokeswoman and police Pfc. Brandon Justice. Rayburn's boyfriend, Christopher Missett, a 16-year-old junior who was riding in the back seat, was released from the trauma center Saturday with a hairline fracture to his jaw.
The crash came on a night when Mount Hebron school security removed five students from the "Beach Bash II" dance for underage drinking, including one who was sent to the hospital for alcohol poisoning, said school spokeswoman Patti Caplan.
Mount Hebron accounted for 18 of the 48 alcohol-related suspensions at county high schools during the 2004-2005 school year, Caplan said, the highest number "by far."
"They have a high number of incidences, but it could also mean that they're tougher and targeting this problem at their school," Caplan said.
Mount Hebron PTSA President Cindy Ardinger said that her group and others will be meeting with school officials to discuss alcohol use.
"We're definitely not taking this lightly," Ardinger said. "It is definitely a matter of concern. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that a majority of the students there made the right decision.
"It was an unusually bad night," Ardinger continued. "One whole week prior to the event, the students are constantly reminded of the repercussions should they come to the dance intoxicated. I'm definitely surprised by the number of students who failed to heed that advice."
The three teenagers were headed to the summer-themed dance before the school closed its doors at 9 p.m., said Missett's stepfather, Eric Levey. Justice said that the Beetle came to rest near a home where several Mount Hebron students had gathered. The students heard the crash and were at the scene before investigators, Justice said.
Word of the crash quickly spread to students at the dance by cell phone text messages, although most students did not know that Iampieri had died until the following day.
"With the text messaging, there is nothing we can do," Caplan said. "We do our best to stay ahead of the release of information, but with cell phones, the students have ways of getting information so quickly. It's next to impossible to stay ahead."
First-period teachers read a statement from Mount Hebron Principal Veronica Bohn yesterday, and students wrote notes on posters in the cafeteria that will be given to Iampieri's family. Bohn also sent home a letter with students.
One parent described the school's mood yesterday as "very sad."
A Mount Hebron student said that Rayburn and Iampieri were inseparable. "You couldn't mention one without mentioning the other," she said, adding that yesterday had been hard.
Iampieri's family did not return a message left with a relative. Her funeral was scheduled for today.
Iampieri was a four-year member of Mount Hebron's dance program and also participated in the school's internship program, choosing to work in fashion design for the Baltimore County-based Victor Rossi Couture.
Manish Singh, a Victor Rossi designer and Iampieri's mentor, said that she "always had a positive glow about her." Singh had written a recommendation for her to the Savannah College of Art & Design and said that Iampieri had planned a career in fashion.
"I told her that I wanted her to intern with me every summer, and that I would hire her in a second," Singh said. "She had a positive attitude that worked well in any company."
Justice said that police would not determine whether to file criminal charges against Rayburn until they received the results of her blood-alcohol test in about six weeks. Caplan said that the five students removed from the dance will face disciplinary action, and Justice said that criminal charges are pending against them.