From left to right: Tiffany Buhr, Morgan Brown, Laura Mallette
Lake Wales, Florida- On Friday afternoon, Tiffany Buhr and Katie Blackburn were busy putting final touches on items to create a memorial to mark the spot where their 17-year-old friend was killed in a car crash in Lake Wales on Saturday, September 22, 2007.
Morgan Brown died in the accident at around 11 p.m. at West Lake Wales Road South and State Road 60.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, the driver of the car that she was a passenger in didn't stop at a stop sign and was hit by another car. Three other teens inside the car had to be rushed to the hospital.
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Buhr organized a candlelight vigil to honor Brown, who she considered more of a sister. She says, "I just wanted to do something special for Morgan just to let her know she's not forgotten."
Buhr says this is the first time she's returning to the scene where her friend died.
The candlelight vigil is planned for 5:30 p.m. at West Lake Wales Road South and State Road 60 in Lake Wales Friday evening. Buhr says many people will wear lime green shirts with Brown's picture on it. She says everyone is asked to light a candle and they will place a cross at the site where the accident happened.
Tiffany's mother, Tracy, says tragic car crashes involving teens is happening more and more often in Polk County. She says, "I've watched her cry over many friends that have died in car accidents and I really wish the schools would get more involved in Driver's Ed."
Don Bridges is the athletic director for the Polk County School District. He oversees the Driver's Education program and says, "We don't teach you to drive 100%. It's the parent's responsibility."
Bridges says there are some 5,000 15-year-old students in Polk County.
"We've had questions that have arisen when there was an accident and some kid was killed and he's in high school and we go back and look at the kid's record to see if they've had Driver's Ed and we've had some that have Driver's Ed that were involved in a fatal accident and we've had others that weren't - that hadn't had Driver's Ed."
He adds that Driver's Education is not a required class in Polk County and hasn't been for decades. It's an elective. Bridges says 800-1,000 students take the class during the summer, which is the only time it's offered there.
Friends say Brown was in ROTC at high school. They say she was outgoing and fun to be around. Buhr says, "We used to go out and ride four wheelers and play in the mud and have fun in school and eat lunch."
The other teens hurt in the crash were 18-year-old Tiffany Pitts, 16-year-old Shannon Pitts, and 16-year-old Laura Mallette. Troopers say Tiffany was the driver of the 1995 Pontiac that ran the stop sign. Friends said back then that she suffered a broken neck. Shannon Pitts suffered a broken wrist and Laura Mallette spent time recovering in intensive care.
The driver of the other car, 24-year-old Reyes Cortez de la Cruz, was also rushed to an area hospital. Reyes did survive the crash.