A 15-year-old Manassas Park high school student was killed and several of her relatives were injured as the group tried to make its way home from North Carolina in the middle of Hurricane Irene.
Katherine “Momo” Morales — whose friends remembered her as an athlete, “always full of energy” — was with seven other people in a car when the incident occurred just after 4 p.m. Saturday, according to police in Goldsboro, N.C.
At that time, the front end of the hurricane had already knocked out power across the region, including a streetlight at a busy intersection. Police said Morales and her family were heading home from Myrtle Beach, S.C., when their Ford Explorer approached the light, drove into the intersection without stopping and collided with another sport-utility vehicle that had also failed to stop. The impact threw Katherine, her mother, another woman and that woman’s 7-year-old daughter from the vehicle.
A 1-year-old and a 3-year-old were strapped into car seats and were not injured, police said.
Morales was pronounced dead at the scene. Her mother, Glenda Yessenia Cruz, the other woman, Edith Martinez, and her child, Lindsey Martinez, were taken to a hospital. The woman was in critical condition Sunday, police said. The child was in stable condition, and Morales’s mother was released, police said. Police said the driver of the other vehicle and her two children were treated and released.
The local high school student was one of nearly 20 people killed from Florida to Connecticut in situations related to Hurricane Irene, including people who were in homes and cars hit by trees, surfers who were tossed from their boards in rough surf and at least one in a fire caused by downed wires. A man in his 50s was electrocuted in New York when he tried to save a child who had waded into flooded streets with downed wires.
Within hours of her crash, friends of Morales’s had created Facebook pages in her honor and filled them with memories of the rising sophomore. They recalled how she loved to play soccer, basketball and volleyball, and could watch the film “Finding Nemo” over and over. She was a pretty girl who, at the beginning of eighth grade, everyone wanted to know more about.
“You told me to come watch you play this year,” one person wrote. “Once soccer starts, I’ll still be there.”
Another: “you were such a good girl, never got into trouble, always with your mom and brothers and sister . . . so young and pretty you had soooo much ahead of you . . . we love you Katherine. & THOSE BEAUTIFUL CURLS OF YOURS WILL BE MISSED SO MUCH!”
And yet another: “Bestfriends forever, that’s the pinky promise we made.”
Manassas Park Mayor Frank Jones said that city residents plan to hold a candlelight vigil or a similar public display in honor of Morales but that details had not yet been worked out.
“Manassas Park is a very small community, very close-knit,” Jones said, and the loss “will be felt across our community.”