'This is a tragic accident'


Lycia McKinney, 16, who died in a two-vehicle accident on May 20, was remembered by dozens of family members and friends three days later during a candlelit vigil at the scene of the crash.

The Riverdale High School rising junior died after being thrown from the bed of a pickup that Murfreesboro Police say ran a red light on South Church Street at Joe B. Jackson Parkway.

“This is a tragic accident,” said Lycia’s aunt, Shelly Victory.

Lycia’s stepfather, Brian Teacher, said she was the mother of a six-month-old boy, Isaiah.

Lycia died just nine days after another Riverdale classmate passed away. Corey Polk Jr., 19, drowned May 11 while swimming in Percy Priest Lake, Metro Nashville Police said at the time. The drowning happened a week before Polk would have graduated.

The accident that claimed Lycia’s life happened mid-day Sunday when a 1989 Ford Ranger pickup traveling north on South Church failed to stop for a red light, Murfreesboro Police said in a press release. The pickup hit a 2013 Toyota Sienna van which was traveling south on South Church and trying to turn left onto Joe B. Jackson with a green arrow signal.

Police said there were six people in the pickup: the driver, James Utley, 21, of Murfreesboro, and two juveniles in the cab, and one adult and two juveniles in the bed. The three in the bed, including Lycia, were thrown out of the vehicle.

One of the other juveniles injured was Lycia’s younger brother, family members said.

Utley sustained serious injuries and was transported from the scene to Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) by LifeFlight, police said. The adult passenger ejected from the truck bed was transported to VUMC by Rutherford County Emergency Medical Services (EMS). The other three juvenile passengers were transported to Saint Thomas Rutherford, where one was later transferred to VUMC. All were in stable condition last week.

The two occupants of the van were evaluated on scene by Murfreesboro Fire Rescue Department and Rutherford County EMS personnel and released with no injuries determined. They were identified as Luther Hix and Shirley Hix of Murfreesboro, police said.

The crash investigation is ongoing; however, alcohol is believed to be a factor in this crash, police said. Charges are pending the outcome of the investigation.

Family and friends organized a candlelight vigil at the accident scene last Tuesday evening. Dozens came and went, and that number was only a fraction of those who would have wished to pay their respects as many did not learn of the gathering in time, Victory said.

Victory added she hopes the tragic accident will serve as a wake-up call to youths. While the family lives in the country, where it has been common to ride in a pickup bed, that practice is not only illegal but unsafe now, she said.

“The way people drive – they don’t pay attention,” Victory said.

Lycia had only met Utley earlier on Sunday, she noted.

Other relatives and friends shared their memories of Lycia.

Victoria Smith, a friend, said, “She was an amazing, sweet girl” who was proud to be a mother.

Lycia’s mother, Juliet McCullough, called her daughter a funny person who always had a joke and made others smile.

Tommy McKinney, Lycia’s father, said, “She had lots of friends.” When asked his favorite memory of her, he said, “All of them.”

Lycia attended South Boro’s Pentecostal Church on Rock Springs Midland Road. Youth Pastor Tyler Wells said she loved to sing and have a good time. He recalled that on a van trip to Gatlinburg, she sang at the top of her lungs.

“She loved life. She loved God” and her family, especially her younger brother, he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

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