BERTHOUD — A tiny pair of white ballet shoes hangs on a power pole at Larimer County roads 1 and 4, where 15-year-old Shawntae Taylor died Wednesday.
The Fort Collins girl was killed when a car full of teens ran a stop sign and was broadsided by a pickup, according to the Colorado State Patrol.
Three other teens in the car were injured, one critically.
Kurtis Soeby, an 18-year-old junior at Berthoud High School, was in critical condition Thursday afternoon at Denver Health Medical Center, where he was flown after the crash.
Friends who gathered at the crash site Thursday said Soeby suffered brain swelling and that the next 72 hours are critical. His vital signs were stabilized, and the swelling had decreased, said Colin Argys, a Berthoud student.
Another Berthoud junior, Brendon McBride, 16, is listed in serious condition at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.
The driver of the car was treated at Poudre Valley Hospital and released. The Colorado State Patrol did not release his name, but friends and school officials identified him as Benjamin Moden, 16.
He also is a junior at Berthoud High School and played basketball. Friends found a basketball with his name printed on it in the field where his car ended up.
“He’s at home and physically OK, but he’s still in shock and shaken up,” classmate Jacqui Rusk said.
The four teens were traveling east on LCR 4 when Moden ran a stop sign, according to the state patrol. A northbound truck, driven by 68-year-old Leslie Mechem — who was not injured — hit the passenger side of the car.
None of the teens was wearing a seat belt.
Investigators are still determining speeds and whether drugs were involved in the crash; they said they found drug paraphernalia in the car.
Once the investigation is complete, troopers will decide whether to pursue misdemeanor or felony charges against the teen driver, Trooper Eric Wynn said.
In the meantime, family and friends of those injured and killed are struggling to cope with the shock and loss.
Rusk crouched on the ground near the pole with the ballet shoes. She looked at a photo of Taylor and the pink flowers placed at the base of the pole, hugged her knees and wiped tears from her eyes.
“She did everything right,” Rusk said of her friend. “She changed everyone in a good way.”
Although Taylor was from Fort Collins, she spent a lot of time hanging out in Berthoud with her boyfriend, McBride, Rusk said. The couple had met at the Sundance, a club in Fort Collins, she said.
“She loved to dance,” said Jared Fahl, a Berthoud student.
Rusk interjected, “She’d just made the varsity dance squad.”
Taylor had just finished ninth grade at Webber Junior High in Fort Collins and would have attended Rocky Mountain High School next year. The last day of school was Wednesday.
On Thursday, her classmates, friends and family returned to the school to grieve. About 300 people gathered to celebrate her life, school district spokeswoman Ellen Laubhan said.
Thompson School District counselors also were available at Berthoud High School, where McBride, who has a twin brother, Soeby and Moden all are juniors. McBride and Soeby both wrestle for the school.
“We’re mainly just comforting kids,” principal Len Sherman said. “In a small school like this, everybody knows everybody, so it affects the whole school and the community at large.”
Berthoud High School officials and Berthoud emergency services workers have stressed the need for seat belts and safe driving many times in recent years. The small town has lost several teens to car crashes.
After a 2003 crash that killed two Berthoud students and injured a third — all had been drinking on their lunch hour — community members formed Berthoud Community Coalition for Youth.
With retiring Police Chief Bill Wegener as chairman, the committee is conducting a survey to find the top community concern on which to focus with repeated education.
“I think it’s most likely going to be drinking, driving and drugs,” Wegener said Thursday. “We’re going to try to change some attitudes.”
While it is still unclear if impaired driving contributed to the Wednesday crash, Wegener said the group promotes all driving safety.
The frustration was evident in his voice as he spoke about the crash. Wegener said he has seen many teens die in crashes despite safety education.
He said he doesn’t know how to stop it from happening, but the committee plans to try.