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Beltway Crash That Killed 4 Turns Time of Celebration Into Mourning

Stephanie Talbot crouches after describing the Beltway wreck Thursday in Virginia that killed four women. She was driving behind the car that crashed and saw the accident. Jamie Morningstar, on the bench, also knew the victims.
Stephanie Talbot crouches after describing the Beltway wreck Thursday in Virginia that killed four women. She was driving behind the car that crashed and saw the accident. Jamie Morningstar, on the bench, also knew the victims. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 17, 2007

The group of girls, some of whom had known each other since elementary school, had planned to spend yesterday celebrating their graduation at the beach.

Instead, they spent the morning in a Fairfax County church, hugging, weeping and exchanging stories about Renee Shelkin, 18, Lydia Petkoff, 18, Sarah Carter, 19, and Elaine "Nettie" Thackston, 20, who died Thursday night in a car crash on the Capital Beltway, just hours after Shelkin and Petkoff had graduated from West Potomac High School.

Shelkin "was so beautiful, so striking and tall and blond, and she just walked around with this goofy attitude," said Rebecca Holloway, 18. "It's like, you go through boys together, you go through classes, and now you can't go through college together."

Friends attending a service for the four victims at Aldersgate United Methodist Church said two cars full of young women had been heading that night to Love nightclub in the District to celebrate.

Stephanie Talbot, 18, one of the drivers, saw the other car, a Volkswagen Cabriolet, turn onto an exit ramp near Springfield and then swerve back toward the main lanes, colliding with a tractor-trailer.

"I was just thinking, 'Where are they going? What are they doing?' " she said. "I pulled over and I jumped over the barricade, and I just looked down," where she saw her friends lying in the road. She called police and told her passengers not to come out, "so they wouldn't see."

The service yesterday was attended by relatives, friends and a 17-year-old girl who had been in the back seat of the Cabriolet and was treated at a hospital for injuries. Friends said the girl broke her nose and an arm and received some stitches. A woman at her house in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County declined to talk with a reporter.

Down the street, Shelkin's grandfather stood outside the split-level house where she had lived with him and where friends and neighbors were bringing food and flowers.

"This is all beyond comprehension," Barry Shelkin said. He said that his granddaughter had been ejected from the car and that the medical examiner would not release her body until tomorrow. "We're trying to find out the alcohol level of the five of them in the car."

Virginia State Police gave no updates yesterday on the investigation. Alcohol was found in the wreckage. It is not clear whether it was a factor in the crash.

A few miles away, Douglas Carter and his son, Ryan, 13, sat in their darkened living room, trying to comprehend their loss.

Carter said his daughter and Thackston, George Mason University students who were roommates, had recently traveled together to England and the Netherlands. "She was very responsible," he said of his daughter. "She was way ahead of her years."


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