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Loudoun Teenager Loses Control, Dies After Car Hits Tree

Senior Crashed Near His Home

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2004; Page B04

A Loudoun County teenager died after apparently losing control of his car and hitting a tree near his Lovettsville home, authorities said yesterday.

A neighbor found the car, a 1995 Toyota Celica, about 7:30 a.m. yesterday off eastbound Lovettsville Road. John Ward Lender Jr., 18, a senior at Loudoun Valley High School, was pronounced dead at the scene. Authorities believe that the accident occurred sometime after 11 p.m., but they have not pinpointed the time or where Lender was coming from, said Kraig Troxell, spokesman for the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office.

Accident Victims: The number of young people killed in traffic accidents has surged in recent weeks.

Troxell said that Lender was not wearing a seat belt and that an investigation is underway to determine whether speed was a factor in the crash. He said there is no indication that alcohol was involved. He said an autopsy is being conducted to learn more.

Zane Wilcox, 18, also a senior at Loudoun Valley, said the accident occurred less than 100 yards from the home Lender and his father shared with Wilcox and Wilcox's mother and brother. But he said that the wrecked car was hidden off the twisting rural road and that he drove past it without seeing it on his way to school yesterday morning.

Lender was the 18th teenager to be killed in a car accident in the Washington region in the past 11 weeks. His death came amid campaigns to restrict teenagers' driving privileges, give them more training behind the wheel and urge them to exercise caution, especially as the holiday vacation approaches.

Wilcox said he and Lender had been friends for 15 years, since both were in preschool, and they had shared a home for close to 10 years. He said they last saw each other Monday afternoon, when Lender said he was going to buy Christmas gifts for his girlfriend. By 1:30 a.m., when Wilcox said he went to sleep, Lender hadn't come home. That was not unusual, Wilcox said, because Lender's mother lives nearby, and he often slept at her house.

Wilcox said Lender was extremely popular, with a circle of friends that extended into many school cliques. Lender had been taking horticulture classes at the county's vocational school and was interested in applying to Virginia Tech to study the topic further, he said.

"He was really outgoing, really friendly. He was always there, for me and for my brother," Wilcox said.

Troxell said investigators want to talk to anyone who saw the accident or was with Lender on Monday night.

Wilcox said buckling seat belts always has been a "top priority" in the family, and he was surprised to hear that Lender wasn't wearing his.

Loudoun Valley High School Principal Gerald Black said Wilcox asked permission to break the news of Lender's death to the student body late in the day and did so over the public address system.

Amy Harrington, 17, who said she was a close friend of Lender's, said the school fell silent at the news. Lender "wasn't fake," she said. "He was straightforward with everyone, and everyone who knew him loved him as a good friend."

The school, the westernmost of Loudoun's eight high schools, is known for its tightknit student body, a holdover from its days serving a largely rural community. Black said the school community was pulling together, and students were comforting each other. A crisis intervention team also was brought in, he said.

"The kids are just so supportive of each other," he said. "They help each other in times like this."

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company