Deadly Halloween crash shakes small town in Mississippi

AP News
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Posted: Nov 01, 2016 5:53 PM
Deadly Halloween crash shakes small town in Mississippi

CHUNKY, Miss. (AP) — Every Halloween in the rural eastern Mississippi hamlet of Chunky, families and groups of friends load costumed children onto flatbed trailers and drive from house to widely spaced house for trick-or-treating.

It's how things have been done for as long as Joyce Reynolds, the co-owner of a local trading post, can remember. On Monday night, a pickup truck slammed into the back of a small utility trailer carrying 10 people on a dark stretch of two-lane highway just outside Chunky, killing a mother and her two young daughters and severely injuring seven other Halloween revelers.

"Most everybody stays in the city limits where the lights are on," Reynolds, whose own children and grandchildren rode golf carts for trick-or-treating, said Tuesday. "What was unusual was them driving out Highway 80 where it was dark."

The crash happened after sunset on a stretch of two-lane U.S. 80 that has no street lights.

Killed were 33-year-old Kristina Shaver and her daughters, Baylie, 8, and Brooke, 2, who lived near Chunky.

Mississippi Highway Patrol Staff Sgt. Andy West said seven people were injured and were taken by ambulance or helicopter to one hospital in Jackson, about 80 miles to the west, and two hospitals in Meridian, 20 miles to the east.

The driver of the Jeep pulling the utility trailer, Terry Smith, 58, of Chunky, and his two passengers escaped injury, as did the driver of the pickup that hit the trailer, Chase Cook, 20, of nearby Decatur. No one was immediately charged, but an investigation continued Tuesday.

West said the children on the trailer were dressed up for Halloween — but the wreck scene was so horrible, he said that he didn't remember exactly how their costumes looked. Pieces of wrapped Lifesaver Gummies, MilkyWay and Kit Kat chocolate bars and Starburst candies were still scattered by the roadside at the site Tuesday. Investigators used bright orange paint to mark the spot where the crash occurred.

Among the other seven people injured on the trailer were three children, two teenagers and a woman. Their conditions were not immediately known. Initially after the crash, authorities said six people were in critical condition. West did not know the age and gender of the seventh injured person.

Kristina Shaver became a widow three months ago when husband, 36-year-old Kerry Douglas Shaver, died in late July, a local funeral home said.

Chunky — population about 325 — is in wooded hills and is a popular launch spot for canoeing on the Chunky River. It's a place residents choose for a quiet, country lifestyle. Reynolds and her husband, Dwayne, own Chunky River Recreation Trading Post and Campground, a wooden building with a wraparound porch full of rocking chairs. It rents camping sites and sells snacks, cold drinks and "Chunky Mississippi" T-shirts.

Most longtime residents of the town know each other by name or reputation.

Brittany Farmer, her husband, their two children and a menagerie of dogs, cats and rabbits live on a wooded lot full of Halloween decorations about a quarter mile from the crash site. She said she took their 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter trick-or-treating in Meridian and returned home after emergency workers had taken away the dead and injured. Farmer said she and her children watched TV news coverage about the wreck as they got ready for school Tuesday morning, and her son asked if he knew anyone involved. She had to tell him she didn't know any names but he might hear some at school.

"I told him all you can do is just pray for them," Farmer said. "It's terrible, whether you knew them or not."