Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of a tragic hit-and-run incident that claimed the lives of three Moore High School students and injured several more.
On Feb. 3, 2020, a group of MHS cross country students were running near the high school when Max Townsend of Tuttle allegedly crashed into them with his truck, killing Rachel Freeman, Kolby Crum and Yuridia Martinez, and injuring several others. Townsend is facing 10 felony counts.
In recognition of the anniversary of the tragedy, Moore Public Schools will have mental health experts and therapy dogs available for students and staff on Wednesday, according to a district press release. There will also be an area in the school for students and staff to write messages of remembrance and reflection.
The note cards will be buried at Memorial Park, where the school has been building a memorial to memorialize the students who died. The school will host a dedication ceremony for Memorial Park on March 10.
As the Moore community mourns the families impacted by the 2020 tragedy, read on to remember the events of that day and the strength of Moore students in the aftermath.
The day tragedy struck
The cross country runners gathered at a stop sign on East Main Street near the school around 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 3 for their daily 10-minute run to Bryant Elementary School, according to students’ testimony.
Shortly after the run began, several students testified that they saw Townsend’s red truck driving towards them. The truck struck six of the runners at a speed of 77 mph, Moore police officer James White testified.
White testified that Townsend’s vehicle struck a parked white Jeep on the other side of the street before driving across lanes of traffic and striking the runners.
Joseph White, then a senior at MHS, yelled to warn nearby runners that the vehicle was driving towards them, according to testimony. Another student, Shiloh Hutchinson, pushed two students out of the car’s path before being struck by the vehicle, which pushed her into a nearby pond, according to testimony and police reports.
MHS senior Kolby Crum, who was one of the students that was struck, told students attempting to administer CPR that he was okay, and that they should focus on the other victims.
After striking the runners, Townsend allegedly continued driving away from the scene and traveled several blocks before crashing into a pole. Evan Bitterman, a nearby MHS student, testified that he and a friend pursued Townsend on foot and caught up to him shortly after he crashed.
Bitterman said they took his keys from him and threw them down the street before telling Townsend he wasn’t allowed to leave.
Bitterman said Townsend was crying, and expressed his sadness regarding the death of his son, Cody. Cody, 28, was killed in a car accident on Feb. 2, 24 hours before the hit-and-run, The Transcript reported.
First responders quickly arrived at the scene to perform CPR and transport injured students to the hospital. MHS senior Rachel Freeman died at the scene.
Moore police arrested Townsend shortly after he crashed.
The days following the tragedy
MHS sophomore Yuridia Martinez died from her injuries on Feb. 4. Three of the other victims — Joseph White, Shiloh Hutchison and Ashton Baza — were treated at the hospital and were released within days of the crash.
MHS senior Kolby Crum was rushed to the hospital after sustaining a traumatic brain injury, collapsed lungs and some broken bones, and also suffered several strokes while hospitalized, the Transcript reported. Crum died from his injuries on Feb. 15.
At a Feb. 4 vigil in the MHS gym, MHS athletic director Chad Mashburn memorialized the students who died.
“I tried to come up with something to say — what do I say, what do we talk about?” Mashburn asked during the vigil. “We talk about the kids that we lost. They were awesome kids ... they were great athletes, they were great students, they were great classmates, and I want to thank you for allowing us to be a part of their lives.”
Townsend was booked into F. Dewayne Beggs Detention Center shortly after he was arrested. He was charged with 13 felonies, including manslaughter.
Martinez’s funeral was held on Feb. 8 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church Moore; the funerals for Freeman and Crum were held at First Moore Baptist Church Feb. 11 and Feb. 20, respectively.
Where Townsend’s case stands now
Townsend’s preliminary hearing was held July 24 at the Cleveland County Courthouse, where he was told by Judge Steve Stice that he will stand trial.
Townsend is now facing 10 felony counts, including three counts of second-degree murder, three counts of leaving the scene of an accident of a fatality and four counts of leaving the scene of an accident with injury.
Townsend was previously charged with three counts of manslaughter, three counts of leaving the scene of a fatality accident, one count of DUI causing great bodily injury and four counts of leaving the scene of an accident involving injury. Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said the updated charges reflect months of investigation and a toxicology report that showed Townsend had alcohol and marijuana in his system, though less than anticipated.
“[After] looking at all the evidence, talking to witnesses, reading reports ... the facts better suited second-degree murder charges,” Mashburn told the Transcript at the time.
A status conference for Townsend’s case is scheduled for March 11 at the courthouse. As of now, no date has been set for Townsend’s trial.
The district increased students and staff access to mental health professionals and resources in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, an effort that has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Increased mental health resources will be available at Moore High School on Wednesday, according to a press release.
“While there is continuous hurt and healing, we know Wednesday will be especially tough for our families, students, and staff,” the press release reads. “We will honor the young lives that were taken from us, while also providing support and comfort to those injured and involved, and our entire Lion family.”
“Prayers for Kolby,” a Facebook page created by Crum’s friends and family in support of Crum and the other victims shortly after the tragedy, posted a message of remembrance, support and love for the victims on Tuesday (the following excerpt is used with permission).
“I want to express my love to the Freeman family and the Martinez family. We are forever connected thru (sic) this tragedy,” the post reads. “There is no doubt how difficult these days will be for them as well ... I also want to express my love to all the other kids that witnessed, that were hurt and affected by this senseless tragedy. I pray for them daily. Kolby, Rachel and Yurida will be with them always.
“Kolby impacted those around him daily with kindness, selflessness, helpfulness and compassion. He left an amazing legacy. I will honor him and keep his legacy alive until the I join him in Heaven. The world is a lot less bright without these amazing kids.”