By Meghan Cooke / Charlotte Observer September 7, 2011
Authorities have determined that a piece of metal from a dump truck flew over an interstate median and caused the wreck that killed a Gaston County teacher last month.
Around 7 a.m. Aug. 30, Christina Whelan was driving to Carr Elementary School in Dallas, where she was a second-grade teacher.
She was on Interstate 85 near McAdenville in her Toyota Scion when she suddenly lost control, slammed into a cement median and ran off the right side of the road into a grove of trees. The 27-year-old soon died at Carolinas Medical Center.
Witnesses told investigators they saw debris fly up just before the crash, and authorities initially said there might have been some sort of mechanical malfunction in the Scion.
But on Wednesday, the N.C. Highway Patrol said its reconstruction team had determined that the wreck happened when a “leaf spring” crashed into her windshield after it broke off of a dump truck going in the opposite direction on I-85.
Whelan was traveling southbound in the far left lane as the dump truck drove northbound – each traveling at about 60 mph, authorities said. The spring, which is 20 inches long and weighs about 15 pounds, apparently broke off the truck and flew over the median.
“This leaf spring became an airborne missile traveling over the interstate wall and crashing into the front windshield of the Toyota Scion,” according to the Highway Patrol.
Two days after the crash, students at Carr Elementary released balloons in Whelan’s memory on what would have been her 28th birthday.
Whelan was engaged and living in Charlotte. She was beginning her first year of teaching at Carr Elementary after teaching five years at Brookside Elementary in Gastonia. She grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to North Carolina after she graduated college to pursue a teaching career.
Troopers said they’re looking for drivers who might have seen the spring break off the truck.