Thirteen-year-old Courtney Thrasher took the wheel; it was her daddy’s truck. Her passengers – 12-year-old cousin Lindsay Thrasher, and friends Kadie and Anna Rogers, ages 12 and 13, respectively – eagerly joined the fun.
Though a storm approached, the sun still shone when the girls pulled onto Prentiss County Road 5111 and navigated the narrow, winding route to the north and then south.
Their act, while illegal, might sound familiar to other rural Mississippians, for whom sneaking a parent’s vehicle constitutes a rite of passage. Roll it out quietly, take a couple of spins, come home, laugh about it.
But this time it ended tragically. Deep ruts in the earth and black tire tracks etched on the road reveal a vehicle that spun out of control.
The girls were headed south on C.R. 5111 around 4 p.m. They had just passed a man in his yard and waved. They drove a little farther and rounded a corner. But they were going too fast. The truck veered off the road to the right. Ruts. Then it jerked sharply to the left, back on the road but going too fast and too far the other way. Tracks.
It skidded off the road again, this time on the left, wedging deep grooves in the dirt as it careened toward a wooden utility pole. The truck clipped the pole, flipped on its passenger side, and ejected Anna from the window, pinning her underneath.
The man they’d just passed, still in his yard, heard a loud thud and dashed to the scene. He tried but failed to free Anna from the weight of the truck. And by the time rescuers arrived with extrication equipment, it was too late. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Ambulances whisked the other girls to area hospitals. Lindsay and Kadie were treated for minor injuries and released from Baptist Memorial Hospital-Booneville. Courtney suffered a broken pelvis and was transferred from North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis. She went home Tuesday, bandaged and bruised but physically OK.
Her emotions, however, will take a lifetime to heal.
“It’s like a nightmare,” Courtney said Wednesday while staring numbly at a scrapbook she and Anna had made together.
The pages featured photos of the girls – posing at Easter, making silly faces, wearing oversized sunglasses, wrapping their arms around each other – and decorated with hand-written phrases like, “Nothing can come between us” and Together we = a lifetime of happiness.”
The two had talked daily.
“Every day when she got up, she would text me,” Courtney said, softly. “She would say, ‘Good morning, bestie.’”
Courtney and Anna had met, as infants, at Grace Tabernacle Church in Baldwyn where they became best friends despite attending different schools. Courtney just finished seventh grade at Marietta Elementary School; Anna completed the same grade at Guntown Middle School.
They shared the same birthday month – July – as well as the same taste in music and clothes and boys and hobbies and hairstyles.
“They were like sisters,” said Courtney’s grandfather and the church pastor, Braxton L. Rutland. “We watched them grow together and play together. It’s going to be hard on all of them.”
Although Kadie was a year younger and pestered the girls as a preschooler, her outgoing antics eventually won them over. They became an inseparable trio.
Kadie, like her sister, goes to Guntown Middle School. She’ll enter the seventh grade in August. Lindsay will enter the seventh grade at East Union Attendance Center.
The four came together this week in hopes of attending a popular Pentecostal youth meet in Raymond. They’d met at Rutland’s house after church Sunday with their backpacks ready to go. Courtney’s mom would drive them there Monday morning.
But a phone call Sunday evening from the youth pastor changed those plans. Too many kids had registered, he’d said. There might not be enough room. He would call back the next day to inform them if any space opened up.
The girls were awaiting that call at Courtney’s house when they sneaked out in the truck.
Prentiss County Sheriff Randy Tolar called the situation a tragic incident that could have happened to anyone.
No one faces any criminal charges, he said.
At that age, “I probably did the same thing myself,” Tolar said. “But you’ve got to use good judgment. You take an inexperienced young driver ... and you put them out there on that kind of road, and from what witnesses told us, shoot, they were driving too fast.
“It’s just a tragedy.”