Driver inexperience, a dangerous passing maneuver, speed and the possible distraction of a text message all contributed to the accident that killed five 2007 Fairport High School graduates, authorities said.
It has been established that Bailey Goodman was on a cell phone earlier as she drove to her family's Keuka Lake cottage, but it is unknown if she was the one text messaging when the accident occurred the night of June 26, Ontario County authorities said Friday.
The brief exchange of text messages on Goodman's phone occurred just before she lost control of her eastbound sport utility vehicle and swerved into the path of a westbound tractor-trailer.
Ontario County Sheriff Philip C. Povero, after announcing the findings of his office's investigation, expressed hope it would "allow the healing process an opportunity to begin for the victims' families."
There was no evidence of alcohol involved in the crash and pending toxicology tests for drugs are not expected to yield positive results, police said.
No tickets were issued to the driver of the tractor-trailer or the driver of the car Goodman, 17, had passed.
The facts collected by authorities paint a picture of five excited young women, who had graduated five days earlier from Fairport, the suburban Rochester school, and were headed for an overnight at the lake.
Goodman, at one point, chatted on her cell phone with another girlfriend who was in a car following the SUV. The girlfriend was with three other girlfriends, also headed to the cottage.
Then, in the Canandaigua area on Routes 5 and 20, with little more than a minute left before the horrible accident, Goodman's phone was used to send a text message alerting a young man that they were near his residence.
"We can't conclusively say who had possession of Bailey's phone at that time," said Matthew J. McDonald, a criminal investigator for the Ontario Sheriff's Office. "The text message was to a guy, a boyfriend of one of their friends. The text message stated they were driving through the other person's hometown and he responded back with 'What are you doing?' He didn't know who he was text messaging."
The message from Goodman's phone was sent at 10:05:52. The last text message received on her phone was at 10:06:29.
The 911 call alerting authorities to the accident was received at 10:07:07. A passenger in the car Goodman passed placed that call.
Investigators interviewed the four friends in the car behind Goodman's vehicle; David Laverty, 50, the Olean driver of the westbound semi; and Michael Short, 21, of Honeoye, driver of the eastbound car Goodman passed.
Short, the sheriff said, tried to make room for Goodman as she passed doing about 60 mph in a 55-mph speed zone.
"The driver saw the lights of the tractor-trailer and slowed down and pulled to the right," Povero said of Short.
Laverty, whose rig was going about 55 mph, began braking and swerved to the right to try and avoid the SUV, which spun out of control and went back into the westbound lane.
The tractor-trailer then struck the front passenger side door and windshield of the 2005 TrailBlazer, Povero said, pushing the vehicle about 138 feet before coming to a stop.
A subsequent fire did not cause the deaths of the girls, McDonald said. Autopsies determined the teenagers died upon impact with the truck.
Goodman and Sara Monnat, 18, who was in the front passenger seat, were wearing seat belts. The three girls in the back, Hannah Congdon, 18, Katie Shirley, 18, and Meredith McClure, 17, were not.
McDonald said Goodman's quick maneuver to get back into the eastbound lane caused her to overcompensate and lose control of the vehicle. She had started the pass in a legal passing zone, but completed it in a solid, double-line zone.
McDonald noted that while Goodman was not driving at an "extreme rate of speed," speed nonetheless was a contributing factor to the accident.
Authorities have said that although Goodman had only a junior license at the time of the crash, she had completed a driver education course that would have allowed her to drive legally at night, with other teenagers.
It's not clear why state Department of Motor Vehicle records showed her having only a junior license.
"We have copies of the paperwork that she took the proper driver education," Povero said. "The Department of Motor Vehicles stated it never received the paperwork."
"It's obviously sad. All these girls had a lot of life ahead of them," McDonald said.
Timeline of a tragedy Cell phone records detail final seconds before crash
Text message sent from Bailey Goodman's cell phone
Text message received on Goodman's phone
First 911 call reporting crash involving Goodman vehicle