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Second island teen killed in early crash -- Update

For the second time in three days, a Bainbridge teen was lost to a horrific traffic accident early Monday.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah Anne Gillette was killed, and seven other island youths injured, in a one-car crash on Tolo Road.

Four boys – three age 16, and one 17 – were airlifted to Harborview Medical Center, where they remain in serious or stable condition. Three other youths – a 16-year-old boy, and two 14-year-old girls – were taken to Harrison Hospital and were treated and released.

Gillette’s death came just 72 hours after Rebecca M. Phillips, age 19, died when her vehicle slammed into a tree off North Madison Avenue.

Alcohol was a factor in the Phillips crash. Cause of the second accident remains under investigation, and there was no immediate indication that alcohol was involved; police say a 14-year-old Bainbridge girl with no driver’s license was behind the wheel, and the vehicle was traveling at “shockingly” high speed.

Even so, teens who gathered Monday at an ad hoc service at Bethany Lutheran Church were quick to denounce a youth party culture that they said routinely puts island young people at risk.

“This stuff is going to happen when we put ourselves in those situations all the time,” said Carol Burford, a Bainbridge High School sophomore. “How many people is it going to take? It’s just frustrating that something like this has to happen before people stop partying.”

Roadside memorials sprang up at both scenes, and grieving youths came and went from the Tolo Road site throughout Monday afternoon.

Neighbors reported the second accident at 1:48 a.m. Monday, in the 6200 block of Tolo Road. Eight youths ages 14-17 were in 2003 Ford Explorer, traveling eastbound when the driver apparently lost control on one of the road’s rolling hills. The vehicle spun and overturned, sliding nearly 300 feet before crashing into a wooded area.

Gillette was sitting in a “rumble seat” in the back cargo area and was not wearing a seatbelt. The vehicle roof was crushed, although most of the youths managed to crawl out of the overturned vehicle before firefighters arrived on the scene.

The vehicle had been taken without the owner’s permission, Bainbridge Police Traffic Officer Rob Corn said. The driver faces possible charges of vehicular homicide and assault, he said, with the case sent to the prosecutor’s office.

“They were out screwing around,” Corn said. “She was going faster than I would ever imagine going on Tolo, and just lost it.”

With students returning to Bainbridge High School for class registration this week, counselors and other resources will be available, officials said. Principal Brent Peterson planned to address students and share information; families can call the main Bainbridge High School number, 842-2634, to access various resources to help them through grief.

The back-to-back deaths come after a year of efforts by Just Know and other local groups trying to help teens make positive life choices.

“It’s shocking and depressing and it highlights the need for us to get our arms around this issue,” said Bruce Weiland, school board president. “What else can one say in the face of such tragedy?”

Review staff writer Dee Axelrod contributed to this report.

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