May 27, 2010
HEPHZIBAH, Ga. --- A new graduate of Hephzibah High School is dead after a fiery crash late Wednesday night.
Jewel Miller, 18, was killed in the single vehicle crash. The student from Augusta graduated from Hephzibah High School on Tuesday.
Chief Deputy Coroner Mark Bowen believes Miller was headed home from a friend's house when she crashed on the 1900 block of Hephzibah McBean Road. Bowen says Miller was speeding and possibly texting while driving.
The accident happened around midnight. Deputies say Miller was headed westbound when she lost control and hit a power pole. Her car then burst into flames and she was ejected. Bowen tells News 12 Miller suffered burns over most of her body and died immediately from them before she was thrown from the vehicle.
Dozens of students and faculty gathered at Hephzibah High School Thursday morning to remember Miller. Many wore Class of 2010 t-shirts.
"I think it's exceptionally tragic when it's right after graduation because that's supposed to be a time of celebration and looking to the future. And this young lady certainly had a very bright future," principal Walter Reeves told News 12's Will Nunley.
"It's devastating. You know a young lady that's got everything going for her, bright future. Then to get news two days after graduation that this has happened, it's terrible," he said.
"She was always smiling, she was always happy," graduate Lea Browning said. "Jewel left an impact on any person she talked to, any person she met."
Other classmates said Miller was known across campus.
"Everybody loved Jewel. Jewel was known with every group of people. every different type of group of people," Jerald Butler said. "She was unstoppable, a force to be reckoned with."
Miller was a member of the volleyball and soccer teams and was the only student on the women's wrestling team. She was also elected Homecoming Queen this past year.
"I stood on the field with her and i saw the smile on her face when she won and I was thrilled for her," Browning said.
"The smile on her face after homecoming. There's just not words to describe it," Butler added.
Bowen does not believe alcohol was a factor in the accident. He said Jewel Miller's cell phone was open and lying near her body at the scene. Bowen does not believe the phone would have opened on it's own on impact which supports investigators theory that Miller was texting when she crashed.
The phone was also burned in the accident so the coroner's office plans to subpoena her cell phone records to see if their suspicions are correct.
The circumstances of the crash were especially upsetting for some students.
"I'm guilty of never wearing my seatbelt and texting. I'll never do it again. This is the second friend that I've lost," Katelyn Domzalski said. "And I don't want to lose another."
"It's not worth losing your life over, you know. It's dangerous, stop texting, put the phone down, buckle up," Butler said.
Almost nothing is left of the charred car Miller was driving. The power pole she crashed into toppled over into the roadway, sending power lines into the road. Deputies had to shut down that section of Hephzibah McBean Road for most of the night while they worked to clear the scene.