NEW CASTLE – It is hard for many to believe that a year has already passed since the fatal car accident that stunned everyone in the community of Craig County.
Three young women remembered for their wonderful personalities and bright plans for their futures were the victims of the two-vehicle accident on Route 311 that shook up the entire county Oct. 6, 2013.
Megan Bradley, Tia Gardner, and Carleigh Taylor left a strong impact on many people’s lives in their short time on Earth, and that is what their family and friends continue to remember today. In a close-knit community like Craig County, these three ladies were regarded as a sister or best friend to all. However, one year later, one thing is evident about them – they are still very much alive in the memories of the many people who love and miss them greatly.
Amanda Francisco, one of Carleigh’s two older sisters, shared humorous stories of when her sister was younger.
“She was terrified of mountain lions. She was convinced that if she went outside after dark, one would come out of the woods and eat her,” she laughed.
She also joked that Carleigh, who was 22 years old at the time of the accident, always referred to herself as a “princess” and thought she should get everything she asked for.
“One time we were little and we were in the Goodwill,” Francisco said. “She wanted this kitchen set and mom told her ‘no,’ so she found some handcuffs and handcuffed herself to it and we had to pry her off of it with a butter knife!”
It wasn’t just family and friends who were impacted by the girls’ lives and personalities; many teachers at Craig County Schools shared stories of each of the girls, talking about how much they enjoyed their presence and all the things they learned from them in the years they were students.
Rachel Arthur, a health education teacher for the middle and high school, spoke highly of each of the girls.
“Megan had aspirations and goals, and she really worked hard to achieve them,” she recalled. “Tia never once had a bad thing to say about anyone, and Carleigh – when she walked into a room, she would make sure you knew.”
With laughter in her voice, she shared a story of a time when Megan, who was 18 and had graduated from CCHS in the summer of 2013, was in the locker room after class one day.
“She was using one of those wet-to-dry straighteners and I had never seen one, so I just looked at her like ‘you are burning your hair off, girl!’” she exclaimed.
Other teachers, including Pamela and Geoff Boyer, Brady Price, Shelby French, Stephanie Taliaferro, and Hope Smithwick, all agreed that these three girls were hard workers and had the biggest of personalities.
“Tia was always bubbly and she exemplified the word sweet,” Boyer said of the 19-year-old, who was also remembered as a talented singer. “She could always brighten your day and make you laugh.”
Jessica Stebar and Alyssa Swingle were the two survivors of the accident, and have been strong fighters in recovering from their injuries. Stebar said she remembers her friends every day.
“They were all three such beautiful girls, inside and out,” she said. “I know they’ve each touched and changed so many lives. They will always have a special place in my heart.”
Many other friends of Megan, Tia, and Carleigh, like Aretta St. Clair, could not find the right words “that would do justice to those angels,” but she said that there wasn’t a day that goes by that she doesn’t think of them and the lives that they lived.
“She’s in the trees that sway, and the wind that carries the leaves to and fro.
She’s in the flowers that bloom, and the sunlight that dances in the shadows.
She’s your little sister, and us little sisters will never truly leave you alone.”
– Laura Leigh Minnix, excerpt from “Little Sister,” a poem about Megan Bradley, Tia Gardner, and Carleigh Taylor
– By Mary Booth, Correspondent