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‘As we celebrate, others are mourning’: Bell County High School honors seniors involved in deadly crash during graduation ceremony

One teenager was killed, the other remains in critical condition.
Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 9:27 AM EDT
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MIDDLESBORO, Ky. (WYMT) - Bell County High School held it’s class of 2021 graduation Friday night, without two students in attendance.

“It’s very difficult today to begin a celebration today under such heartbreaking circumstances,” opened Bell County School District Superintendent Tom Gambrel.

Celebrating amidst a tragedy, Bell County High School Principal Brian Crawford asked for a moment of silence shortly after the beginning of the ceremony.

With heavy hearts, graduation continued Friday after senior Dalton Hunter was killed in a car crash Thursday night, a crash that sent fellow senior Natasha Miracle to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, where she remains in critical condition.

“Today, tonight, and for the next several days, the students are forging some bonds,” Crawford added. “They’ve had to face this tragedy head on this morning when they woke up like most of us did.”

A group of seniors, beginning their futures without one of their classmates.

“Thank you Lord, for the blessing it was to know Dalton,” said fellow senior Sara Kidwell.

“We must remember that as we celebrate, others are mourning,” Laurel Nolan, another fellow senior, said. “Although he will not be here with us today, Dalton will always be remembered and in our hearts as we continue through our lives.”

Dalton and Natasha’s seats remained empty and Dalton’s sister crossed the stage to accept his diploma. Through the pain, they cherished the memories.

“Tonight, at each of their seats, there is an Arizona sweet tea which was Dalton’s favorite drink,” added Assistant Principal Christie Wells. “At this time they would like to share their memory in honor of their fallen classmate Dalton Hunter.”

“Tonight, I would like to dedicate my speech and walk across the stage to the celebration of Dalton Hunter’s life and in prayer of Natasha Miracle,” said senior Reagan Robbins.

The seniors dedicated this moment of accomplishment to the one who didn not have the chance.

Officials with Bell County High School are asking for donations to cover Hunter’s funeral, you can send them to the school. Miracle remains in critical condition following surgery Friday, according to school officials.

5:39 p.m. Update:

Late Thursday night, Kentucky State Police received a call about a crash on 19th Street in Middlesboro.

“Troopers responded to the scene, it was a commercial vehicle involved along with a passenger vehicle,” said Kentucky State Police Trooper Shane Jacobs.

Troopers told WYMT the 18-year-old driver of the passenger car crossed the center line and hit the commercial truck head-on.

“Anytime that we work a collision we always look to speed as a factor,” said Jacobs. “So at this time our reconstructionist is conducting an investigation,” he added.

The crash killed Bell County High School student 18-year-old Dalton Hunter. The crash left the driver of the car, also a Bell County student, in critical condition at UT Medical Center in Knoxville.

“At any type of fatality that occurs, toxicology reports will be taken from all drivers, the passengers everybody involved in the collision that’s a standard procedure,” added Jacobs.

Jacobs said the death of Hunter is a loss for the Bell County community. He said KSP is working closely with the family to bring them answers on how the crash happened. He said he is also praying for the teen driver and her family.

“It was a horrific collision and, you know it was something no one wants to pull up on,” he said. “The family deserves to know what happened, what caused this collision, what went wrong.”

12:20 p.m. Update:

Officials with Bell County High School posted additional information about Thursday’s crash on their Facebook page.

The post reads “Late last night, two members of our 2021 graduating class were in an automobile accident. Tragically, one student passed away due to injuries sustained and one is in critical condition. While we mourn the loss of a graduate, his family’s wish is that we continue. Tonight’s graduation will proceed at 7 pm. The Bell County High School family asks for your prayers for the family and friends.”

Kentucky State Police identified the student who was killed as Dalton Hunter, 18. We do not know the identity of the other student.

Original Story:

Investigators are trying to piece together what happened following a deadly crash in Middlesboro.

Our media partner WRIL reports it happened at 19th Street and Hurst Road just after 11:15 p.m. Thursday.

The Bell County coroner’s office confirmed to WYMT two people were in the car at the time. One of them died in the crash.

We do not know how many other vehicles were involved, the number of any additional victims or their conditions.

We are still working to learn more information about what happened.

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