Four University of Georgia students died and another person was in critical condition following a wreck late Wednesday in Oconee County, officials said.
The crash happened along Highway 15, a two-lane road in Watkinsville, which is also known as Greensboro Highway, just south of Athens.
“For an unknown reason, a vehicle crossed the center line and struck another vehicle,” Georgia State Patrol Sgt. Scott Andrews told Channel 2 Action News. The GSP is investigating the crash.
The victims, all women, were in a white car that struck the other vehicle. The white car ended up in a ditch and the crash shut down all lanes in the 3900 block of Greensboro Highway for about four hours, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. Three of the students died on the scene, and one of the victims died at Athens Regional Medical Center.
One of the cars involved in the crash had a Gwinnett County tag, the Oconee sheriff’s office said in an email. The other one had a University of Georgia license plate.
An initial crowd of about 200 people, mostly students, started gathering about midnight at the Young Life Center on Baxter Street to pray and to comfort each other, according to the Red & Black campus newspaper.
Friends, sorority sisters and family members of the victims were at Athens Regional Medical Center, where the fifth person involved in the crash remained in critical condition.
“We are praying, as you are, for her healing and recovery and for the friends and families of these ladies,” the sheriff’s office said.
University of Georgia President Jere Morehead said in a statement he and the school community are “deeply saddened.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the families and friends of our students who were victims. We ask that you keep these students and their family and friends in your thoughts and prayers.”
Officials have identified the victims, but are holding off on releasing their names until their families have been notified, Sheriff Scott Berry said Thursday in aFacebook post.
“We respect their privacy at this point and I trust you will as well,” he said. “We grieve with them … during these unimaginable circumstances.”
During an interview with Channel 2, Berry was visibly shaken.
“I’ve got a son graduating college next month,” he told the station, “and this hurts.”
By Lauren Foreman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution