Amanda Garrett and Theresa Cottom
COVENTRY TWP.: Amber Thoma was a feisty girl whose spunky spirit spilled over into sports, where she played basketball for the Coventry Middle School Comets eighth-grade team.
Taylor Galloway was a tomboy who liked the arts, playing clarinet in the school’s band and leading the anime club, which is devoted to comic books, graphic novels and cartoons.
The girls, one blonde, one brunette, both 14, developed a tight friendship in school and were together Sunday afternoon, walking with two boys, when they were struck by a car.
Amber and Taylor, who were killed, may have never seen the 1999 Ford Escort coming.
They were walking with the boys north along South Main Street, apparently with their backs to northbound traffic, on the downside of a small crest in the road where there is no sidewalk south of Warner Road.
Vehicles there travel north in a single lane. Only about a foot of pavement separates the white edge line on the right from the grass. The speed limit is 40 mph.
Investigators said Tuesday that a 24-year-old New Franklin Township woman driving north crossed the white edge line and hit the girls, along with one of the boys, a 15-year-old seventh-grader, who remains in critical condition. Classmates said he has a cracked vertebrae in his neck, a skull injury and a broken ankle.
The other boy in the group was not injured.
No charges have been filed against the driver, whose name has not been released. The Summit Metro Crash Response Team’s investigation in ongoing and could last weeks, officials said.
Although the names of the girls killed were not released until Tuesday, word of their passing spread quickly through the community.
Taylor’s older sister and friends of Taylor and Amber quickly arranged a candlelight vigil Monday night at Ingleside Park, where a couple of hundred people, mostly children, gathered.
At the same time, Coventry Middle School Principal Tina Norris invited staff to gather at the school Monday night to grieve and to devise a plan to help students when they returned Tuesday after the long Memorial Day weekend for their last four days of school before summer break.
Messages on signs
On Tuesday morning, signs at businesses across the area flashed the messages “Comet Strong” and “Pray for Coventry Schools.”
Cleveland television news trucks staked out the middle school parking lot.
And inside, school staff wrapped the lockers of Taylor and Amber with thick, white paper and left boxes of markers nearby so students could write goodbyes to the girls. They also lined an empty trophy case with more paper for messages and left the case open for students to drop off cards, stuffed animals and battery-operated candles.
During first period, teachers read a prepared statement and helped visibly shaken students to the media center, where counselors from Coventry and surrounding school districts, Greenleaf Family Counseling, Northeast Family Care Counseling Center and a variety of local churches tried to help.
The eighth-grade promotion ceremony scheduled for Tuesday was postponed until Wednesday.
But the seventh-grade overnight field trip Tuesday to Columbus and Cincinnati continued. It was up to parents, who had already paid $300 for the trip, whether they wanted their children to go, Principal Norris said, and most did.
Norris remembered Amber as “fiery.”
“If she felt she was right, she was not going to back down,” she said. “It’s not that she wouldn’t listen to reason, she would. But she had a firm sense about her.”
Taylor was very similar, she said, and confident.
“She was incredibly intelligent, bright, vibrant and very articulate,” Norris said.
After school let out Tuesday, several students headed to the scene of the crash, now marked by a growing pile of stuffed animals, cards, pinwheels and a basketball left for Amber.
Chloe Wells, a sophomore at Coventry High School, laid down a picture she painted that said “Once a Comet, Always a Comet.” Dozens of high school students signed the back.
Although Chloe didn’t know Amber or Taylor, she said the incident shook her and others at the high school.
“It’s just horrible,” Chloe said.
Funny and nice
Classmates who did know the girls described them as funny and nice and said both were active in sports and after-school activities.
“I thought Taylor was a pretty cool girl. She just made everyone smile and laugh,” said Brittany Hane, a fellow eighth-grader. “Amber, I thought she was a really good friend. They were really, really nice girls.”
Some at the scene said the girls and the boys had visited a Circle K at the top of the hill on South Main Street to buy Polar Pop fountain drinks. No one knew where they were headed when the crash happened.
Brittany Hane, also an eighth-grader at Coventry Middle School, lives only a few houses away from the crash scene. As she paused Tuesday at the roadside memorial, her mother came out of her home.
“Up in the grass!” Patty Hane yelled, fearful another passing car could hit kids gathered at the crash site.
On Sunday, Patty heard the screech of the accident, ran out and saw the children sprawled on the side of the road, their shoes scattered in the street. Brittany arrived a few minutes later and saw the white car that hit them. Brittany said the car’s windshield was cracked and its front bumper was falling off.
Amber and Taylor aren’t the first classmates Coventry’s graduating class of 2021 has lost.
Since 2013, this year’s eighth-grade class has dealt with deaths of a fellow classmates, the Hanes said.
One student died from an asthma attack and another died from a brain tumor.
“I think this year for the middle school was the roughest,” Brittany Hane said. “We lost so many lives in middle school. It’s just tough.”
Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or email@example.com