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Pa. school mourns loss of student

September 13, 2007|By DON AINES

ST. THOMAS, PA. - The death of a 17-year-old St. Thomas girl made for a solemn day at the two schools she attended, both of which have lost students in the past year to automobile accidents.

Brandy L. Thomas, of 9957 Lincoln Way West, was pronounced dead Tuesday at the scene of a 3:12 p.m. accident in the 4000 block of Leafmore Road in St. Thomas by Franklin County Deputy Coroner Kenneth L. Peiffer.

Pennsylvania State Police said Thomas was driving a 1996 Pontiac Sunfire west when she lost control of the car on a curve. The Sunfire went into the eastbound lane and collided with a 1997 Ford Econoline van driven by Damon Arthur Hughes, 29, of St. Thomas.

Peiffer said Thomas died of head injuries. She was not wearing a seat belt, police said.

Damon, who was wearing a seat belt, was unhurt, police said.

Thomas was a junior at James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, Pa., and was attending the Franklin County Career and Technology Center this semester, Buchanan Principal Rodney Benedick said Wednesday. She was a student in the Allied Health program at the center, he said.

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"The mood was very solemn today, whether you knew Brandy or not," because the school has experienced the death of a student four times in the past year, Benedick said.

Since the fall of 2006, three other students have been killed in vehicle accidents, Benedick said.

"There were a lot of tears and a lot of grieving," said James Duffey, director of the career center. Many students were unaware of Thomas's death until their arrival at school Wednesday morning, but the staff learned of the accident Tuesday and was prepared, Duffey said.

"She was well-liked, and this has been very difficult," Duffey said. Allied Health students, he said, are primarily studying to become nurse's aides, and medical and dental assistants, he said.

"Our Student Services Department did an excellent job," Duffey said.

Back at Thomas' home school, Benedick said the school psychologist, counselors and two social workers were on hand to deal with students' grief.

Benedick said three of the four James Buchanan students killed in the past year were career center students.

Benedick recalled that during her freshman year, Thomas became a certified swimming instructor and helped teach elementary school students at the high school pool as an alternative to taking traditional physical education classes.

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