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May 28, 2012

Graduation turns to mourning in Clinton

Accident shortly after commencement claims life of South Vermillion grad

CLINTON — Jeana Lunsford’s graduation from South Vermillion High School Saturday should have been a time of celebration.

Instead, as she left the graduation ceremony and drove south on Indiana 63, she was involved in a serious, one-car accident, sustaining injuries that later claimed her life.

A day of celebration instead became a night of mourning for a life taken much too young.

The accident occurred about 4 p.m. Saturday on Indiana 63 near Pike Street in Fairview Park. According to the Vermillion County Sheriff’s Department, Lunsford had been driving south on Indiana 63 when the vehicle left the road, crossed the median and overturned several times.

Lunsford, who was ejected from the car, was taken to Union Hospital-Clinton and later airlifted to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where she succumbed to her injuries.

A passenger, 18-year-old Jonathan Hall, was treated and released from Union Hospital-Clinton with minor injuries, according to a news release.

The accident remains under investigation.

South Vermillion School Corp. Superintendent Dave Chapman saw Lunsford as she walked across the stage and received her diploma during commencement. As is done for other graduating students, a baby picture and a senior picture were projected on a screen.

“It’s a day of celebration, excitement and joy for the students and families,” Chapman said. “The last thing in the world you expect is to get a phone call” that something so terrible has happened.

“It just tears at your gut,” he said.

Lunsford had just completed high school “and was ready to move on with her life,” he said.

At the appropriate time, school officials plan to reach out to the family “and see what we can do,” Chapman said.

In front of the high school Sunday, a sign carried the message, “Rest in Peace Jeana.” Taped to the sign was a small, yellow-golden bouquet and a dark ribbon.

Meanwhile, three friends of Lunsford gathered Sunday evening at the site of the accident, where a makeshift memorial had been created in the median of Indiana 63. It included a wooden cross and wreaths.

The friends, Jeff Kabbany, Larry Barbour and Logan Edwards, also left flowers as a tribute. “We knew her pretty well,” said Edwards, 19. “She was a really enthusiastic girl. She was always really happy,” he said. “She was really funny.”

He also described her as a strong person who had talked about going to Ivy Tech in the future. Her death “is so hard to believe,” Edwards said.

A large group of friends gathered Saturday night and had a candlelight vigil, he said.

Kabbany, 18, graduated with Lunsford Saturday. He described her as someone who was outgoing and “told her mind. She was fun to be around.”

Her death “is unbelievable — unreal,” Kabbany said.

Barbour said Lunsford had a lot of energy and “she was probably one of the craziest girls you could meet.”  

Reacting to her tragic death, Barbour said, “I don’t think it’s going to sink in until the funeral … It wasn’t her time to go, that’s for sure.”

Jessica Cassidy, who was best friends with Lunsford, described her as “very generous. She really cared for other people and loved her family and friends a lot. She was an amazing person.”

Lunsford was very excited about graduating and had talked about going to Ivy Tech, she said.

“It was a terrible thing that happened and she didn’t deserve it,” Cassidy said. “It was her graduation day.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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