TAMPA — A Plant High School senior died and three of her friends were injured Friday night when their Ford SUV careened off Interstate 75 near Gainesville and burst into flames.
Allyson Marie Faulk, 17, was driving to Florida State University with three other Plant High seniors to attend the university's homecoming football game.
Their weekend trip came to a grim end, however, as they were passing Micanopy about 6:20 p.m.
Lizzy Mischo, 18, one of the passengers, said their 2000 Ford sport utility vehicle started shaking severely. Faulk "had her eyes on the road," and had been driving responsibly, she said.
"It just started swerving," Mischo said. "It wasn't her fault. It felt like the car was just freaking out."
The Ford veered into the median and smashed into one tree, then two more before coming to a stop.
Mischo quickly got out and ran to the road to wave for help. When she looked back, she saw flames.
Karlyn McKell, 17, had already escaped the wreck, and Kristen Hurst, 17, had been thrown free by the impact. But Faulk remained pinned inside, Mischo said.
"I was yelling 'Get out! It's on fire!" she said, but she knew Ally was already gone.
"There was no way to help her," she said. "I just fell down because I was crying so much."
Authorities declared Faulk dead at the scene, and the others were taken to Shands at the University of Florida. Mischo was released first, and McKell and Hurst are expected to be released today, Hurst's father, John Hurst, said.
Florida Highway Patrol investigators say the impact of the crash and fire turned the SUV into an unrecognizable tangle of seared metal. They don't yet know the cause, Lt. Pat Riordan said.
Meanwhile, Plant High School students and faculty members are reeling from news of Faulk's death. She was an editor on the yearbook staff and the president of the Zeta service club.
"Ally was a great kid and a very high-achieving kid," principal Rob Nelson said. "The students and faculty are very shaken by this. We're also thanking God the other three are okay."
Faulk's father, Joe Faulk, said it was still too difficult to talk about his daughter. Family gathered at their South Tampa home on Saturday.
Plant volleyball players found out about Faulk's death Friday night. They played their playoff match in Venice on Saturday afternoon with Faulk's initials written on their hands during the Panthers' four-game win.
Plant senior volleyball player Danielle Erb and Faulk were both editors for the school yearbook.
"We worked really close together, and we had a nice friendship, and to find out what happened last night was really hard," Erb said. "She was a genius. She made straight A's. She was the sweetest girl."
Mischo said Faulk was a fun-loving, opinionated girl. They'd known each other since second grade, she said. The two became close after volunteering at Christ the King Catholic Church's vacation Bible school in summer 2005.
"We were with the preschool kids, and we danced to the Wiggles, and we just died laughing," she said.
Journalism teacher David Webb taught Faulk in his eighth-period year book class. He remembers students flocking to her, drawn by her natural leadership ability.
Webb said Monday classes will be difficult. Principal Nelson said there will be counselors available to students. But Mischo doesn't plan to attend school Monday.
"Everything reminds me of her," she said.
Times staff writers Eduardo Encina, Janet Zink and Amy Scherzer contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.