UPDATED: 3/12/2013 – 10:00 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Three current students and one former student from Wilmington High school were killed when their car plunged into a Will County creek on Tuesday.
The Will County coroner identified the students as Cody Carter, 15, Matthew Bailey, 14, Michalah Sembach, 15 and Cheyenne Fender, 17, all of Wilmington.
“I come to you today with an extremely heavy heart,” Wilmington School Supt. Jay Plese said. “I have wrestled with this this morning because it is such a tragedy. I am still trying to put my arms around it.”
Rescue crews were seen pulling a black 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse from the water at Ballou Road and Warner Bridge around 8:30 a.m in unincorporated Will County, near Wilmington. Officials said there were four teens, two boys and two girls, inside the vehicle.
Will County Sheriff’s spokesman Ken Kaupas said the car somehow drove off the road, crashed through the bridge guardrail and plunged into Forked Creek. Authorities reported there was water on the road before the bridge.
“It appears that the vehicle may have exited the roadway at the top of the bridge,” Kaupas said. “The guardrail is missing. We know the guardrail was there prior to the crash, in talking with residents and people who drive this road every day.”
Kaupas said investigators are looking into why the car left the roadway, but said there is some indication weather might have been a factor.
The water level in the creek was elevated due to runoff from the melting snow, and that may have contributed to the teens being unable to get out of the car after the crash, Kaupas said. The swift-running water also might have washed away evidence that could have helped determine how fast the car was going at the time of the accident.
A complete investigation into what caused the crash could take weeks.
There was no obvious evidence of drugs or alcohol, Kaupus said. Toxicology tests will take several weeks to complete. According preliminary autopsies by the Will County Coroner, all four victims died of drowning.
After the car was pulled from the water, white sheets and then a tent were placed over the vehicle, which was turned over on its roof.
Kaupas said the teens hadn’t been seen since Monday evening, and their families were very concerned when they didn’t hear from them by late Monday night.
“Very responsible teenagers – as I’ve been told – were not answering their phones,” he said. “They lost contact with them at some point. In fact, one family member … filed a missing person’s report with the local police department at midnight last night.”
A school bus driver spotted the car in the water Tuesday morning around 7:30 a.m.
“Riding his ATVs, shooting his air pellet guns, softball, cub scouts he tried everything,” said Regina Bohmann, Cody Carter’s mother.
Micalah Sembach was an only child, according to her aunt, who was a good student and active in school activities.
“She was always full of life,” the aunt said. “She adored her parents and her parents adored her. Everybody loved her.”
Asked if the town would be the same after the crash, Wilmington Mayor Marty Orr said,”There will always be a piece missing from us as we go through this.”