A 17-year-old senior at Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School was killed yesterday in an automobile crash on Interstate 95 while going to a rowing competition with a group of teenage friends.
Laura Lynam, described as a top student and an accomplished rower who hoped to attend Yale University next year and thought about becoming a doctor, died in the crash in the Newington area of Fairfax County.
The crash was the latest in a series of car wrecks in the Washington region involving young people.
Lynam and the others in the car were on their way to a regatta in Occoquan. None of the other girls suffered more than a minor injury.
It was the third death in a little more than a year to involve a current or former T.C. Williams rower. Schuyler H. Jones, 16, was fatally beaten in Old Town Alexandria in September 2003. The rowing community in Alexandria is close-knit, and after Jones's death, Laura Lynam's mother, Melinda, spoke to reporters on behalf of the victim. In June, a former T.C. Williams rower drowned while coaching rowers in a summer program.
Last night, a T.C. Williams parent said of Laura Lynam's death, "It's just an incredible tragedy."
The school's principal, John Porter, added, "She was just a vibrant young lady who was strong in the classroom and a strong rower, too."
"We're just devastated," a relative of Laura Lynam's said. "It's an awful, awful loss."
A quickly organized memorial service last night brought several hundred people to Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria, where friends, classmates and others hugged and sobbed.
"She's probably the most intelligent person I know," Geoff Brown, a fellow student, told a reporter after the service.
Details of the crash were not available from police last night. A dispatcher for the Virginia State Police said that there had been a fatal accident in the southbound lanes of I-95 at 9:39 a.m. just south of Backlick Road in Springfield.
The news spread quickly through Alexandria's academic and rowing communities. Porter heard about the crash within an hour and a half. He and Peter Coppelman, who was president of the school's Parent Teacher Student Association last year, gave this account:
Lynam was in a Cadillac Escalade, an SUV, with at least five other girls, headed to the rowing event. Crew is a spring sport at T.C. Williams, but crew members also row on club teams. Lynam apparently was rowing for the Old Dominion Boat Club, which has a fall competition program.
"The car made a sharp turn," said Coppelman, who added that he did not know the reason. Porter said he thought that there might have been an attempt to change lanes. The SUV went out of control and rolled over at least two times.
Lynam died at the scene. Others in the car who were taken to hospitals were released by yesterday afternoon. One, according to Porter, had a broken finger. He declined to identify the driver of the SUV other than to say she is also a rower.
In the words of an aunt, Lynam was "a beautiful, smart, funny young person" who was at the top of her class at T.C. Williams and was a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist.
She was a serious student who loved to read and studied French in Paris last summer, said the aunt, Clare Lynam Goldfogle. She was also "very passionate about crew" and had many friends among the other rowers, Goldfogle said.
She liked children, was a babysitter in her neighborhood and liked to braid her niece's hair. She also was a skilled seamstress who helped her mother with sewing projects, Goldfogle added.
"We're obviously grieving."
After last night's memorial service, Kate Henderson, a classmate, spoke through tears.
They had taken Latin together, and what came to Henderson's mind was the virtuosity Lynam demonstrated in translation.
"I have no idea what we're going to do without her," she said, breaking down in tears. "She was amazing."
More than a dozen young people have been killed in recent traffic accidents in the Washington area. In one weekend, five people between the ages of 16 and 19 died in Montgomery County.
Staff writers Allan Lengel and Martin Weil contributed to this report.