11/3/2022 4:13:00 PM Teen killed, another injured by car while trick-or-treating
The tragedy occurred near where a deadly accident occurred three Halloweens ago, spurring Oak Ridge's mayor to call for safety improvements on Haw River Road
A roadside memorial has been set up for Aliyah Thornhill (below) at the corner of Apple Grove Road and Haw River Road in Oak Ridge, where she was killed while trick-or-treating on Halloween night. The photo below shows Aliyah posing after performing in a production of “Grease” at Northwest Middle School last April. | Photo by Patti Stokes/NWO and (below photo) courtesy of Jacob Luck
OAK RIDGE - Halloween night trick-or-treating turned tragic after a vehicle struck two 14-year-old girls walking on Haw River Road, killing one of them and injuring the other.
The North Carolina State Highway Patrol reported that Aliyah Thornhill, 14, died after being transferred to Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro. The other girl suffered minor injuries.
The accident occurred after dark around 7 p.m. this past Monday, Oct. 31, when the two girls were walking on Haw River Road near Apple Grove Road. A sports utility vehicle driven by a 35-year-old woman from Oak Ridge was traveling northeast on the two-lane road, according to a statement from the Highway Patrol.
Investigators determined that "the teenagers had been trick-or-treating in the area before the crash and were walking in the roadway on Haw River Road, with their backs to traffic, when they were struck," the statement said. "The deceased teenager was wearing dark clothing and walking in an area of the road that did not provide ambient lighting."
The Highway Patrol said it will not pursue charges against the driver. According to the statement, she was not impaired, and investigators don't believe speed was a contributing factor. She stopped her vehicle at the scene and was helping the girls until first responders arrived.
Last school year, Thornhill attended Northwest Guilford Middle School where she performed as a cast member for "Grease" in April.
"In the classroom, she was self-kept; she was not the class clown," recalled Jacob Luck, the theater arts teacher at the school. "She was so bright and super-duper creative."
Luck said he gave Thornhill the nickname "Madonna" because, like the 1980s pop music star, the teenager wore black gloves. "She had a personality," he said.
Over the summer, Thornhill moved to Durham where her mother is enrolled in college, Luck said. She returned to Oak Ridge to trick-or-treat with her friend.
The accident occurred near the site of a Halloween tragedy three years ago. In October 2019, 11-year-old Noah Chambers was crossing Haw River Road to attend a trunk-or-treat event at Bethel United Methodist Church when he stepped into the path of an oncoming driver. He died a few days later.
Earlier this week, someone placed an ornament with Noah's picture inside at a roadside memorial for Thornhill.
Oak Ridge Mayor Ann Schneider expressed her condolences to Thornhill's family and friends.
The proximity of the two fatal accidents signals that increased traffic on Haw River Road may warrant safety measures by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), Schneider said in an interview earlier this week.
Road changes are the responsibility of NCDOT, not municipalities.
Schneider said she plans to talk to the agency about possible steps, such as putting stop signs on Haw River Road at entrances to some of the subdivisions. Reducing the speed limit from 45mph, with speed-tracking devices, is another possibility, she said.
Haw River Road "is one of the old country roads in Oak Ridge that's become the spine of residential neighborhoods," the mayor said. "Let's make it feel more like a residential road."
A memorial service for Thornhill was held at Oak Ridge Town Park this past Wednesday evening.