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Whitney Salas, 16 -- Car Accident

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PISCATAWAY — The mood was somber at Piscataway High School yesterday as students and staff learned that 16-year-old Whitney Salas had been killed in an automobile accident on Saturday.

"It's difficult to lose someone like this," said Justin Nayman, an 18-year-old senior at the high school. "We take so much for granted. It takes something like this to make people thank God for what they have."

A crisis team was activated in the school, and counselors were available for students and staff. Nayman said students were very upset, and the cafeteria was unusually silent during lunch, except for an impromptu prayer session that was organized by Salas' friends. He said students gathered around a poster board that they had adorned with photographs, poems, flowers and candles in memory of their friend.

"She seemed to be loved by a lot of people," he said.

Teresa Rafferty, the coordinator for community outreach for the school district, said an "overwhelming number" of students sought help from the 13 counselors at the school.

Rafferty said Whitney, a junior, was remembered yesterday as well-liked, popular and very confident.

"She was a very charismatic young lady," Rafferty said.

Police said Whitney was a passenger in a car driven by 18-year-old Antonio Williams. Williams, a senior at Piscataway High School, was driving a 2001 Chevy Cavalier on Old New Brunswick Road at about 11:40 a.m. when, for an unknown reason, he lost control on a curved section of the roadway. He swerved onto a curb in the opposite lane, and the Cavalier was hit broadside in the passenger door by a Toyota Sequoia, driven by 41-year-old Bhargav Desai of Piscataway.

The Sequoia was then sideswiped by a third vehicle, a Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by 55-year-old Carmen Salavarrietta of Piscataway, said Assistant Middlesex County Prosecutor Nicholas Sewitch.

Sewitch said the roadway was wet at the time of the accident, but it was not raining. Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the crash but do not believe alcohol was a factor. Sewitch said he did not know if any of the occupants were wearing seat belts, but said that in a broadside hit such as this, a seat belt wouldn't have saved Salas, who died at the scene. Williams was taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, where he was in fair condition, said a hospital spokeswoman yesterday.

Desai and his 14-year-old son were taken to JFK Medical Center in Edison. Desai was treated and released. Sewitch said Desai's son was hurt, but the injuries were not life-threatening. Salavarrietta was taken to Muhlenberg Regional Hospital in Plainfield, where she was treated and released.



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