State police were trying to determine Wednesday what caused a car carrying two teenagers to run into two international students walking down a northern New York road, strike an embankment and burst into flames, killing all four of them.
The crash happened at around 5 p.m. Tuesday as the international students walked along the shoulder of the road in the rural town of Peru, just south of Plattsburgh. After hitting the teens, the car crashed into an embankment and caught fire, troopers said. All four were pronounced dead at the scene by the Clinton County coroner.
State police have identified the teens in the car as Brandon Rennert, of Peru, and Samantha Donah, of Plattsburgh, both 17. Troopers said they believe Rennert was driving.
The other victims were identified as Dat Ong, 17, of Vietnam, and Chu Xiong, 18, of China. Both young men were international students earning their diploma from Seton Catholic School in Plattsburgh, a city about 20 miles south of the Canadian border. Principal Catherine Russell said they were juniors who had been at the school since September.
"They were the type of young men that always walked through the door with a smile on their face. They became fast friends with many of the American students. It is definitely devastating," Russell said.
Officials said the cause of the crash was under investigation. Ong and Xiong were staying with a host family who lives on the road where the crash occurred, state police said. The family's name hasn't been released.
Russell said her two students had been walking to a store when they were struck.
Seton Catholic, a 144-student private school with 29 international students, had three grief counselors on hand Wednesday.
Ong had a motorcycle at his home in Vietnam and "loved the feeling of the wind blowing against him," Russell said. He loved to cook and play basketball and volleyball. Xiong loved drawing comic strips, martial arts and running, she said.
"I'm sure he ran many times on that road where he was later killed," Russell said.
She said their families are coming in from Vietnam and China.
Paul Scott, interim superintendent for the Peru Central School District, said Rennert was a well-liked, friendly young man whose strengths as a student were in science and technology-related subjects.
"He's a young man who will be remembered by many on this campus," Scott said. "He was known as a bright, bright guy, too, with a big heart."
Grief counselors were being made available to the 600 students at Peru High School, the superintendent said.
Counselors were also on hand at the high school Donah attended in Beekmantown, just north of Plattsburgh. District Superintendent Scott Amo said staff members recall the 11th-grader as being a "sweet kid."
Plattsburgh media outlets report that Donah was Rennert's girlfriend.