Neither speed nor alcohol appeared to be a factor in a crash that killed a 17-year-old Calvert High School student after her car lurched into oncoming traffic as she was leaving the school Wednesday, Maryland State Police said.
Jessica Gelatka of Prince Frederick was making a left turn onto Dares Beach Road from Dorsey Road on the east side of the school when the 1996 Volkswagen GTI she was driving was struck on the driver's side by a 1997 Jeep Cherokee, Lt. Homer Rich said.
Rich said speed and alcohol appeared not to have figured in the 2:30 p.m. crash, the third traffic death of a juvenile in Calvert County this year.
"She may not have seen the Jeep when she turned left," Rich said. "It's a very sad, unfortunate situation."
Gelatka, a senior, was taken to nearby Calvert Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, Rich said. The Jeep's driver, Loretta Galloway, 59, of Bowie, was taken to Prince George's Hospital Center and later released. Neither car had passengers.
Galloway, who said she was sore yesterday, recovering from knee and arm bruises, said Gelatka's car "pulled out right in front of me."
"There was no way I could have prevented hitting her," Galloway said in an interview. "If there was a way, I would have."
Galloway said Gelatka must not have seen her black Jeep coming. "It looked like she waited until I got right in front of her when she pulled out. I really hated that she got killed, but it wasn't my fault."
Calvert High School Principal Gene Bridgett said he announced Gelatka's death to students over the school intercom yesterday morning, asking for a moment of silence.
Bridgett described Gelatka as "a very conscientious young lady" who took her schoolwork seriously. She was a member of the school's band and the National Honor Society and was active in the visual arts, he said.
"She was a wonderful young woman who was a scholar, academically and in her creative ability," said the Rev. Randall W. Casto, pastor at St. Nicholas Lutheran Church in Huntingtown, where the Gelatkas are parishioners.
Casto said Gelatka had a "wonderful sense of humor and a very bright mind. She was always interested in knowing, wanting to learn." He said the family, which includes Gelatka's parents and an older brother, requested privacy yesterday.
"As parents, we can't even imagine the pain," said Casto, who has a 17-year-old daughter. "This is a tragic blow for our community but most especially our faith community here at St. Nicholas."
Lt. Bobby Jones of the Calvert County sheriff's office said a deputy usually stands in the street at a nearby intersection after school is let out, helping school buses move onto Dares Beach Road. But no one is stationed at Dorsey Road.
Galloway said the intersection of Dorsey and Dares Beach roads is as perilous as it is busy, especially after school lets out.
"I really wish they would do something about traffic out there, like put up a stoplight or have police there, directing traffic," Galloway said.
So far this year in Calvert, 14 people have died in 12 crashes, Rich said. He said that last year, 20 people were killed in 17 crashes in the county.