Hours after two Grand Canyon University students were killed in a wrong-way Good Friday freeway crash, the private Phoenix Christian school was deserted for a classroom holiday and closed to visitors.
A third person, a sister of one of the students, was also killed.
Saturday, the Arizona Department of Public Safety identified the sisters as Karli Arlene Richardson, 20, and Kelsey Mae Richardson, 18, both of Moorseville, N.C. ABC TV-Channel 15 reported that the mother of the sisters, Cathy Hocking, said Karlie was supposed to graduate from GCU in the spring and Kelsey was visiting.
DPS identified the driver as 21-year-old Keaton Tyler Allison of Colorado Springs, Colo., saying that he slammed into a white Pontiac occupied by the sisters.
Allison was also a GCU student, the school said.
“It’s a sad day and our hearts go out to those families. That’s our focus right now,” GCU’s Executive Director in the Office of Communications and Public Relations, Bob Romantic, said Friday.
There were no visible signs of shrines or memorials and a security guard said no activity was scheduled to help any of the 17,500 on-campus students cope with grief. The university said Pastor Tim Griffin’s office and the entire student affairs team would be on hand “to assist any students who need support or counseling.”
Tragedy struck just after 2 a.m. Friday, about eight miles from the exit to the campus on Interstate 17, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
“We received the initial report of a vehicle traveling wrong-way, southbound within the northbound traffic lanes of I-17, in the area of Happy Valley/Pinnacle Peak. The second call we received reported the collision between the two passenger cars, just north of Greenway Road, which is approximately six miles south of the initial report,” DPS reported in a prepared statement.
The crash occurred in the northbound lanes of I-17 just north of Greenway Road.
Fire crews had to extricate three people from the mangled veichles. All three were declared dead at the scene.
DPS said Allison, a GCU student driving a silver Chrysler Sebring with Colorado license plates, was at fault.
State investigators said they have not ruled out the possibility that he was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
All the families have been notified, Romantic said in an e-mail.
“I can confirm that the driver of one vehicle was a GCU student, and one of two sisters in the other vehicle was also a GCU student,” Romantic said, adding, “We’re not releasing information about the students or doing interviews out of respect for the families’ privacy.”
Earlier in the day GCU sent a message of condolence to students, faculty, and staff.
“It is with great sorrow and heavy hearts that we share the news that three people, including two students from Grand Canyon University, were killed in a wrong-way driver accident last night on Interstate 17. As a close-knit community of students, faculty, and staff, please keep these families in your thoughts and prayers during this tragic time.”
Update: Sunday, Romantic announced memorial services for the two GCU students.
A private service for Karli Richardson will be held on campus at 8 p.m. Wednesday. A private memorial service for Keaton Allison is planned for Tuesday night at a site to be determined.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.