Mounds of weathered stuffed animals and mementos still mark the place on Bay Road where three teenage girls were killed in a single-vehicle crash last December.
Hailey Parsons, 15, Kai-Lei Schumal, 14, and Yamila “Naomi” Alcoser Silva, 15, all died after the 2006 Toyota Tundra pickup they were traveling in careened off Bay Road, struck a ditch, and then two trees at about 3:15 a.m. on Dec. 22, 2016.
Shortly after their tragic deaths, an outpouring of mourning followed in the form of favorite snacks, stuffed animals, and other items left at the marred tree the girls hit that night. The impact from the crash split the truck’s cab from its frame.
“I believe in angels” is written on one of the three bright pink crosses nailed to the tree at the crash site. The crosses are a bit faded after a year in the elements, as are some of the other mementos, but others appear to be freshly placed in the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the wreck.
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Stuffed animals rest in nearby tree branches and Christmas ornaments dangle from limbs, remembering the teens whose lives were taken on the road in Horry County between S.C. 707 and Enterprise Road in the Burgess Community.
Not long after the deadly wreck, an online petition popped up decrying the treacherous conditions of the road and requesting guardrails be installed.
“The ditches are deep and extremely dangerous,” the petition, which drew more than 1,000 signatures, states.
No improvements have been made to Bay Road since the tragic accident, despite the call to action by the community.
County officials said that preparations for road work were already scheduled to begin in January 2017 with the hiring of an engineer to create stormwater and design improvements to address safety and drainage.
The estimated cost of the work is $2 million.
Andrew J. Markunas, Horry County deputy engineer, said Bay Road construction is a long-term project that is still in the preliminary design stage.
The engineering consultant is Thomas and Hutton, who completed the stormwater study in late summer, Markunas said.
When the recommendations were presented this fall, the county sent engineers back to the drawing board and asked for an alternative design that would improve roadside safety.
“Generally speaking, they are exploring options including piping the ditch (and) leveling the roadside, or moving the ditch further away from the road and widening the shoulders of the road,” said Kelly Moore, Horry County spokeswoman.
No fatal wrecks have happened on Bay Road since the deadly crash that killed the local teens, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. That data also showed five people have been hurt in crashes so far this year on the road, with a total of 14 crashes reported.
In 2016, the crash involving the girls’ deaths was the only deadly one on the road, out of a total of 20 wrecks, the SCDPS data states. Of those 20 crashes, eight people suffered injuries.
Data from the SCDPS shows the tragic crash that took the young lives was the only fatal one on the road from 2012 to 2017.
A S.C. Highway Patrol traffic collision report released in January noted the driver was “driving too fast for conditions.”
The girls were traveling west at an estimated speed of about 80 mph in the 35 mph zone when the crash happened near Blue Heron Boulevard and Freewoods Road, according to a previously released report from the South Carolina Highway Patrol accident investigation team.
A toxicology report released in April by the State Law Enforcement Division revealed that Parsons, who was at the wheel that night, was not under the influence of alcohol when the truck she was driving went off of the roadway, struck a ditch, and then hit two trees before overturning.
The Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) findings, made available to The Sun News through a Freedom of Information request, also showed a fourth person was riding in the truck and briefly drove that night before the crash, but was dropped off before the wreck.
The lives lost
Schumal attended St. James Middle School; Parsons attended St. James High School; and Silva attended Socastee High School.
Parsons and Schumal were remembered at a memorial service at St. James Middle School near the close of the school year in May. Students, teachers, and members of the middle school orchestra and choir gathered to pay tribute to them, and markers placed outside of the school in their honor.
In the days that followed the crash last year, a makeshift sign went up across the fence of Socastee High School in tribute to Silva, and another student from the school who died from drowning the day after Christmas.
An obituary for Hailey Renee Parsons-Kannegieser says she was born in Summerville, and states she had “a wonderful sense of humor and could make friends with anybody.” It also says she touched many hearts during her life, and that she loved travel, art, the ocean, and styles of the 1920’s.
The obituary for Kai-Lei Nichole Schumal says she was a 14-year-old who “will be remembered for her beautiful smile and her bold spirit.”
“She may have been a little shy with words but she could speak volumes with her face whether she was smiling, sulking, rolling her eyes, or laughing. She was a vibrant compassionate soul who was always the protector of the underdog. She loved animals of all varieties, dancing, making videos and pictures, and spending time with friends and family,” the obituary states.
An online obituary for Naomi ‘Yamila’ Alcoser Silva lists her as a 15-year-old who has extended family in Costa Rica and Nicaragua in addition to her immediate family.
A family friend reached out to The Sun News after Alcoser Silva’s mom was contacted, and she declined to comment through a friend. The Sun News reached out to some other family members of the girls, and they either declined, could not be reached, or did not return contact.