By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRISTOL — As the Mount Abraham Union High School community reels from the death of junior Ryan Wendel, who was killed in a car crash only hours after graduation last Saturday, faculty and staff are working to accommodate the needs of students who have been affected by the loss.
Principal Paulette Bogan sent a letter home with students on Monday explaining the details of the accident, in which the car Wendel was driving plummeted 50-feet down an embankment into the Beaver Meadow Brook in Lincoln. Two other MAUHS students who were passengers in the car and two others who were following in a second car struggled courageously to right the overturned 1992 Saab and save the life of the 16-year-old Bristol resident.
Bogan’s letter also included information about how to reach available counseling services and some basic facts about what is considered normal behavior for children and teens coping with loss.
Therapists and guidance counselors are available to students who need to see them. According to Bogan, they have been seeing students in groups in some cases.
“We just want to make sure (the students) are cared for all around,” Bogan said.
Students have already begun to deal with the loss in an informal way of their own. They are creating a memorial in an out-of-the-way section of a MAUHS hallway with pictures and notes left by those trying to honor Wendel, according to Bogan.
Wendel’s funeral is scheduled for Friday, June 16, at 11 a.m., at the Lincoln United Church. MAUHS will go forward with previously scheduled exams that day; but Bogan said that students may ask teachers to have their exams postponed on an individual basis in order to attend the service.
“Teachers are being really flexible with their schedules,” she said.
Wendel died when his car went off the road on Downingsville Road in Lincoln and fell into the creek below a little after 6 p.m. on June 10. MAUHS seniors Peter McEvoy, 17, of Bristol and Ryan Senecal, 18, of Bristol were passengers in Wendel’s car, but were not seriously injured. Justin Conant and Anne Dunham, also seniors, were in the car behind them when it went off the road.
The five friends, who had attended a graduation party at Conant’s house, were on their way to MAUHS’s Project Graduation celebration on a Lake Champlain boar cruise. Seniors were allowed to invite an undergraduate friend if they desired. Project Graduation is intended to be a safe, alcohol-free alternative to other post-graduation celebrations.
The car was passing another when it left the roadway and went down the steep bank. It landed upside down in the rain-swollen water. Initial police reports had indicated that the car landed wheels down. McEvoy and Senecal, who were wearing seatbelts, were able to get out of it.
The cause of accident is currently under investigation, according to the state police report, which also noted there was no evidence of alcohol or drugs being involved.
Joined by Conant and Dunham, McEvoy and Senecal managed to turn the car over and got Wendel out.
McEvoy’s cell phone was lost in the brook, so Dunham, who was on the Eagle track team, ran to the nearest house to get help while the other three attempted to revive Wendel. Senecal had advanced life-saving training.
The Bristol Rescue Squad and Lincoln Fire Department soon showed up to join in the effort to save Wendell. Rescue workers praised the teens for their efforts.
Wendel was taken to Porter Medical Center in Middlebury, where he died due to trauma inflicted in the crash.
McEvoy and Senecal also were treated for bumps and bruises at Porter and released.
Wendel, the son of Hal and Margaret Wendel of Bristol, was a junior at Mount Abraham Union High School where he played on the football team. On Tuesday, Conant said he has deeply felt the loss of his friend.
“It’s really hard, because he was such a good kid,” he said.
Joan McEvoy, Peter’s mother, said the experience has been traumatic for the four surviving teens, who had graduated from MAUHS earlier that afternoon.
“It will be hard for them to get it out of their heads,” she said. “(But) they have a good support system.”
McEvoy is a nurse herself, and she came to the hospital as soon as she heard about the accident. Senecal led the first aid effort until the ambulance arrived with the help of his lifeguard training, and McEvoy said he did “all the right things.”
Conant said that the accident happened so suddenly that he and his friends were just acting on reflex. “It’s not like we just stood and watched,” he said. “We didn’t even think. We just ran down there to help.”