- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

FRANKLIN, VA. (AP) — A small town devastated by a weekend crash that killed a Boy Scout leader and three Scouts is trying to pull together as investigators try to determine why their vehicle ran off the road.

The sport utility vehicle crashed at noon Sunday as John Oliver, 43, of Franklin drove four Scouts back from a camping trip. The vehicle failed to negotiate a turn and hit a tree along Route 35 near Sebrell.

Mr. Oliver, an 18-year Marine Corps veteran who was injured in the 1983 bombing of a U.S. military compound in Beirut, was killed, along with Luke Drewry, 12, and Carter Stephenson, 14, both of Franklin, and Jackson Fox, 13, of Capron.

Mr. Oliver’s son, Michael-John, climbed out of a window before fire consumed the vehicle. He was taken to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and was expected to survive, police said.

In the town of 8,600 people, questions and grief abound.

“Folks I have talked to, they’ve known all these boys, all these young men,” the Rev. Susan Reaves, pastor at High Street United Methodist Church, said Monday.

On Sunday night, some church youth groups gathered to talk about the crash.

“Some … are really asking tough questions,” said the Rev. Sharon James, minister of education for Franklin Baptist Church. “Things like, ‘Why do things like this happen? These were all good people. Why do terrible things happen to good people?’ ”

Gaynelle Riddick said she will remember her great-nephew Carter as a boy with a passion for Scouting, church activities, golfing, hunting and fishing.

“Without your faith,” she said, “I don’t think you can handle this.”

Miss Riddick was among many visitors who stopped at the Stephenson home.

“The whole town is just devastated,” she said.

Michael-John and Jackson attended Southampton Academy, where Headmaster Craig Jones said counselors were made available Monday.

“When you have just over 30 students in a grade level, they’re very close,” Mr. Jones said. “Students are heartbroken, but they are very comfortable speaking to each other and staff members they know. We’re going to close ranks and take care of this.”

Mr. Oliver was trailing another carload of Scouts who attended the same camping trip, part of the 19th annual Virginia United Methodist Scouting Fellowship in Blackstone.

The vehicle was within 10 miles of Franklin when it crashed.

Police said Mr. Oliver didn’t appear to be speeding, and there was no indication that he had a medical problem that would have contributed to the crash. The two-lane road is not considered particularly dangerous, and all the passengers were wearing seat belts.

A report from the medical examiner is not expected for several days.

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