High schools across Western New York this week will ceremonially send their seniors off to the next chapter of their lives, an evening that annually promises to be a joy-filled night the graduates will never forget.
But in at least three high schools, the prevailing emotion that many students will always remember will be grief. The culprit is a familiar one: deadly motor vehicle crashes.
Three seniors scheduled to graduate this year have died in crashes since May. The most recent claimed the life of a 17-year-old Albion High School senior who died in a one-car rollover crash early Tuesday. Brennan M. Moody of Kent was killed and another person was seriously injured in the crash that investigators blamed on excessive speed.
Three days earlier, 18-year-old Frontier High School senior Edward J. Travis IV was killed in a crash Saturday while on his way to a fundraiser. His 18-year-old girlfriend, a Frontier High School alumnus, was seriously injured in the wreck.
Last month, three days before the State Department of Motor Vehicles held its annual seat belt awareness campaign at West Seneca East High School, 17-year-old South Park High School senior Tyler Wackowski of Sloan was killed and five others – including students from West Seneca East and West Seneca West high schools – narrowly escaped death in a fiery May 12 crash at Langner and Fisher roads in West Seneca.
The subsequent event at West Seneca East High School became one of particular urgency to the couple hundred students who listened to speakers talk about the importance of being safe when they are in a car.
Safety experts at that event warned the students about the statistics that should concern them. According to the latest federal data available from the U.S. Transportation Department's Fatality Analysis Reporting System, 27 17- and 18-year-olds died in April or May car crashes between 1994 and 2014 in Western New York.
The crashes claimed the lives of 21 young men and six young women. Drivers were twice as likely to be killed than passengers. Only three of the crashes did not involve a collision or striking an object. Most were not rollover crashes.
The crashes were almost evenly split between rural and urban areas. But only three of the crashes happened on highways. Most of the rest were on local roads, arterials or collectors. Most of the dead were not ejected and most of the vehicles were older models. Thirteen of 23 vehicles identified in the data were at least eight years old, and nine were more than 10 years old. Five of the vehicles were new or a year old.
Of the 27 who died in the eight counties of Western New York, 14 died in Erie County and six died in Niagara County.
On Tuesday morning, Brennan Moody became the latest name to become one of the statistics. He was in the back seat of a 2008 Chevrolet Impala and was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after midnight Tuesday morning, officials said. The car, occupied by four males, left the east shoulder of Eagle Harbor Road, went in a ditch before becoming airborne, striking a utility pole with its roof, according to troopers.
Mercy Flight took the other 17-year-old rear seat passenger to Erie County Medical Center for serious injuries. The 18-year-old driver and front seat passenger were treated for injuries at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.
Albion High School began contacting families and is providing grief counseling for students and families, officials said.
Brennan was active in the arts at Albion. He was an all-county selection in band as a sophomore, and he was a cast member in several Drama Club productions, including "Into the Woods" this March and "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" last November. At Albion's Senior Tea event in November, he sang "This is the Moment," with the Albion website describing a photo of Moody, saying "Brennan Moody wows the audience."
Albion Central Schools Superintendent Michael Bonnewell posted a notice at the Albion schools website Tuesday morning regarding the crash.
"I am heartbroken to report four of our seniors were in a car accident that took the life of Brennan Moody. Three others are at hospitals. Please keep them in your thoughts. ... Be assured that counselors, staff and clergy will be at the high school for students and parents to drop in if needed. We also have staff available at our other buildings for all of our students."
In an email later, Bonnewell said he knew Brennan and had attended weekend music trips with him going back to his time in middle school.
"Brennan was a kid with a heart of gold – if you needed someone to attend to something, you didn't hesitate to ask him," he said. "Whether it was a musical need or a more mundane task, he'd do whatever he could for anyone.
"(The school district) and the world will miss all that Brennan was and who he was going to be."
Monday was the last day of classes for Albion High School students. Graduation is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday.