SK students grapple with Graduation Day fatality

In an instant, a day of celebration turned into one of shock and grief.

Just as he was about to hand out diplomas Sunday, South Kitsap High School Principal David Colom-bini learned that one of his seniors, Bradley C. Lybbert, died on his way to the ceremony.

With just moments to absorb the information, Colombini quickly conferred with members of the SKSD board and Superintendent Bev Cheney, and the group decided not to taint the celebration with the sad news and let the ceremony proceed as planned.

“We just did not feel like it was an appropriate thing to announce,” Colombini said. “We did not know if all the family had been notified, and we were not prepared with grief counselors or any support, so to tell 6,000 people and then just leave them hanging is not something we felt we could do.”

According to the Washington State Patrol, Lybbert, 18, was headed to the Tacoma Dome at 8:45 a.m. when he apparently lost control of his 1991 Ford Escort as he was exiting I-5 onto I-705. The car spun and struck the guardrail, which pierced the driver’s side door and pinned Lybbert against the steering wheel.

Lybbert was transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital, but later died of severe internal injuries, according to the WSP.

Lybbert’s two passengers, Elizabeth Knack,18, and Shelley Miles, 17, who were preparing to graduate as well, suffered minor injuries in the crash. All three teens were wearing their seatbelts.

According to Trooper Elliott George, the primary investigator on the scene, alcohol or drugs are not suspected as a potential cause of the accident, and based on witnesses accounts, the WSP believes excessive speed and a wet road contributed to the crash.

Colombini said he stopped by Lybbert’s crumpled car on his way to the Tacoma Dome, but was asked by troopers to move on.

“I knew some of my students were injured, but I did not know how bad it was until the WSP took me aside halfway through the ceremony,” Colombini said, explaining that the decision to continue the ceremony after the news of Lybbert’s death was not one he made lightly.

“I knew (the accident) was out of my control,” he said. “But I knew this day would be remembered by hundreds of students for the rest of their lives, and that one life tragically had to end. It was difficult, but it had to be done.”

School Resource Officer Bob MacFann said he agreed completely with Colombini’s decision not to make a formal announcement at the graduation Sunday.

“Graduation is about the other graduates,” MacFann said. “And not knowing if (Lybbert’s) family were there and hadn’t heard, it would have been completely inappropriate for them to announce it then.”

MacFann said his job now is to deal with any of the students’ grief and questions as best he can.

At the high school Monday, Colombini said the mood was subdued.

“Kids are in shock,” he said. “Bradley was a great kid, and was very upbeat.”

Colombini said he did not announce the news of Lybbert’s death to the entire school, but rather each teacher read a general statement about the accident to their classrooms Monday, although few seniors attended school that day.

Several counselors were also on hand to offer help and answer students’ questions, he said, and the library had been designated as a place to hangout and talk.

“Our role now is to provide whatever the kids need, within reason,” Colombini said.

Lybbert attended the Sinclair View ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Port Orchard, and was preparing to go on a mission this summer, Colombini said.

Although he had only transferred to South Kitsap High midway through his junior year, Lybbert was reportedly well-liked and very close with his fellow students on the school’s cross country team.

“In such a big school like that, students in small groups get especially close to each other,” said district spokeswoman Aimee Warthen.

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