PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Soon-to-be high school senior Carol Sun began Tuesday eager to catch an evening performance of Cirque du Soleil in Miami with friends. She texted a friend later to say she enjoyed the performance, was headed home and would call him later.
But instead, her friend was awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call reporting that Sun had died, and her friend, Patricia Bao-Tran Le, was in the hospital.
"I have many friends, but she was my best friend. We would talk every day, hang out every day," said Ernesto Gonzalez, who graduated a year ahead of Sun and in the same class as Bao-Tran Le at Palm Beach Central High School.
"It's indescribable how I'm feeling," he added.
The pair, both 17, had dropped off a third friend in Stuart and were headed back to Palm Beach County on Florida's Turnpike at 1:25 a.m. on Wednesday when tragedy struck.
Early accounts from the Florida Highway Patrol indicated that something went wrong, causing Bao-Tran Le to crash into the median wall and then a guardrail before the Toyota 4Runner she was driving stopped in the right southbound lane about 2 miles south of Indiantown Road, said FHP spokesman Sgt. Kurt Hardley.
Moments later, a semi tractor-trailer crested the hill in the same southbound lane and slammed into the rear of the 4Runner, splitting the sport utility vehicle in half, Hardley said.
Sun, who lived in Greenacres, died. Bao-Tran Le, of Lake Worth, was taken to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
By evening, the teen was taking some visitors, Gonzalez said as he and friends prepared to make a dinnertime trip to see her.
Wednesday's tragedy marked the third serious crash — and first fatal — to close that stretch of turnpike between Indiantown Road and PGA Boulevard this year.
All three crashes are under investigation by FHP. But they don't appear to have much in common, said Nichole Kalil, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation.
They all occurred before sunrise, one in a very well-lighted stretch, two in areas Kalil described as moderately lighted. They also happened at 2-mile intervals, with Bao-Tran Le's wreck the farthest north.
The first two crashes came within a week of one another in March.
On March 23 at 4:47 a.m., a fiery crash sent a Miami Gardens man to the hospital with third-degree burns.
On March 30 at 5:15 a.m., a truck merged from the shoulder into the path of a southbound car, triggering a wreck that involved five cars, including two in northbound lanes that crashed to avoid flying debris. No one was seriously injured in that crash, but it forced an hours-long shutdown of the turnpike.
But it's Sun's death that makes Wednesday's crash tragic.
According to Gonzalez, her friend, she was a music lover, a hip-hop dance enthusiast and a member of an anime club at school. And she could sit and talk for hours, he said.
"She had so much going for her. She had her college prepaid. She was starting her senior year. She was going to do hip-hop dancing classes," Gonzalez said. "It's just really sad."
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