Fatal accident shocks Jackson Memorial H.S.
BY DAVE BENJAMIN
A light coating of snow may have been a contributing factor that caused a 1996 Nissan Maxima to swerve off Freehold Road and strike a tree on the morning of March 7, killing two Jackson Memorial High School students.
Police said the driver of the vehicle, Andrew Miller, 17, a senior at JMHS, lost control of the vehicle as it was heading east on a slippery Freehold Road, just past Goldfinch Road and about a half-mile from Cedar Swamp Road.
Freehold Road (county Route 638) runs between Cedar Swamp Road (county Route 527) and Cassville Road (county Route 571).
According to police, at 7:08 a.m. the vehicle exited a curve on the south side of Freehold Road, which has a 50 mph speed limit. Miller lost control of the vehicle and the car struck a tree and became twisted around it, police said.
According to a report prepared by Jackson police officers Trevor Crowley and Kevin Chesney, Miller was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. Miller was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, as was his sister, Shatone Glover, 16, a junior at JMHS. Police were unable to determine whether Glover was wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.
During a press conference later in the day, Jackson police Sgt. Russell Scialpi said it was a sad day in the community. He said it appeared Miller may have been driving too fast for the road conditions. The road was covered with a light coating of snow and there were some slippery areas, he said.
Scialpi said the Maxima, which was registered to Miller's father, Katone Glover, skidded off the road and hit a tree in the area of the driver's door.
"It appeared that both [individuals] were killed instantly in the crash," he said, adding that Miller had a Graduated Driver's License and was driving legally.
He said Miller's inexperience as a driver may have contributed to the accident more than anything else. He said there have been problems in the past on Freehold Road.
"That portion of the road is prone to car accidents," the sergeant said.
Scialpi noted that Katone Glover's wife, whose name was not known, was killed in a motor vehicle accident seven years ago. That accident did not occur in Jackson.
Chesney, who is investigating the fatal accident, said, "This is an officer's worst nightmare. "[A preliminary investigation determined that] the driver entered the curve, failed to negotiate the curve properly, came out and the car went sideways. He overcompensated and hit the tree sideways. It was still snowing at that time."
Chesney said he, Crowley and Jackson Police Chaplain Dan Schafer went to Glover's home to notify him of the accident.
"It's never easy," the officer said. "This is a son and daughter for Mr. Glover. It's very difficult."
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Gialanella said that upon learning of the accident, the first priority for district administrators was to take care of the students and staff members.
"We are obviously saddened by the loss of two of our students," he said. "There is no greater sadness for a parent and the entire school community feels the loss as well."
After learning that two students had been killed in the crash, administrators activated a crisis response team consisting of staff members and counselors who are trained to identify and deal with people who are experiencing grief, trauma and stress.
"Like other districts throughout the state, grade 11 students were taking the HSPA test this morning," Gialanella said. "By the time the test was completed and the identities of the students were known, Mr. (Anthony) Gaita, the principal, addressed the students."
A faculty meeting was also held to address the concerns of faculty members.
"It's a difficult day at Jackson Memorial High School," Gaita said. "We are a large school with about 2,500 students and when a tragedy like this [occurs] our students and staff pull together as a family."
Gaita said the students were visibly shaken. Some of the young people were silent and others leaned on their classmates for support.
"The mood in the school was somber," the principal said. "Some parents signed their children out of school, but the majority of the students stayed in school and worked along with grief counselors, staff and classmates."
Gaita said Miller and Glover were well known at JMHS. He said they were the bright eyes of the school and were well-liked by their peers and by staff members.
Miller was involved with the Jaguars football and track teams and Glover was involved with choir and step dancing.
"Every student is precious to us, but to lose two students in one day is an extreme hardship," the principal said. "Our hearts go out to the students' family. I want them to know that all of our love and support go out to them at this difficult time."
Later in the day JMHS students held a memorial at the location on Freehold Road where the accident occurred. Some of the young people lit candles, others brought flowers, some stood in silence, while others left messages attached to the tree that brought two lives to an end.
Director of Guidance Laura Wheaton said crisis counseling would remain available as needed for the JMHS community.
"This is a shock for our students and we are dealing with this shock. We saw crying, hugging and isolated students," Wheaton said, noting that parents should be aware that some students may begin to grieve again in four to six weeks.
Resource telephone numbers will be listed on the Jackson school district Web site at www.jacksonsd.org.
Chesney said that between 2004 and 2007 there were 63 crashes on Freehold Road. In 2004 there were three crashes and three fatalities. In 2005 there were two crashes and four fatalities, one of which occurred on Oct. 23 about 200 feet from where Miller crashed last week. Three people were killed in that accident. In 2006 there were 10 crashes and 11 fatalities.
In addition to Jackson police, members of the Jackson Mills Fire Company, MONOC paramedics and the Ocean County Sheriff's Criminal Unit responded to the scene of the March 7 accident. The crash is under investigation by officers Crowley and Chesney.