Prom-night crash kills W. Salem junior
May 2, 2005
Stefanie Knowlton and Dan De Carbonel
Statesman Journal

A West Salem High School junior died in a car crash Saturday night as she and her date made their way to the high school prom in Independence.

What was meant to be a special night for Samantha Hopper and Kevin Stich, both 17, turned tragic when Stich apparently lost control of the car and hit the cement wall of a railroad-trestle underpass. Hopper suffered a fatal head injury and died a few hours later.

Stich was taken to Salem Hospital, where he was treated and released, a nursing supervisor said.

The crash happened just after 9 p.m. Saturday in the 5900 block of River Road S, near Halls Ferry Road. That's where the road makes a sharp S-shaped turn as it dips beneath the railroad trestle that bisects River Road between Salem and Independence. The speed limit through the section is 15 mph.

Stich, a North Salem High School senior, was driving a Toyota MR2 west on River Road S. He apparently lost control of the car as it approached the trestle underpass, said Sgt. Jeff Wheeler of the Marion County Sheriff's Office.

The accident still is under investigation, Wheeler said. Alcohol and drugs do not appear to be factors in the accident.

The teens were on their way to Green Villa Farms for West Salem High's prom. No announcement was made during the prom, but students returning home after extended outings heard the sad news early Sunday.

Grief counselors will be on hand today at West Salem High to comfort Hopper's friends and fellow students. Counselors also will be at North Salem High.

Stich was named a Statesman Journal Academic All-Star earlier this year on the basis of his academic performance and other school activities.

Hopper was well-known, said West Salem High School Principal Ed John.

"There's going to be lots of students who know her and who will be saddened," he said.

Hopper was part of a robotics team that was scheduled to present its project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston next month. She also played junior varsity basketball and ran track at West Salem High.

Her basketball coach, Jason Unruh, was stunned by the news.

"It makes things you think are important in your life not so important," Unruh said.

What made the news even more difficult was the loss of such a warm-hearted student, he said.

"She was so sweet," he said. "She was such a joy to have in our basketball program."

Unruh recalled Hopper's enthusiasm for the basketball team, both on and off the court.

She worked for eight hours in the blazing sun at the Art Fair last year to raise money for the basketball program, he said. She never complained, only smiled and found things to laugh about.

"She will be sorely missed, that's for sure," he said. "My heart goes out to her parents, her family and her friends."

Stich's mother, Leslie Stich, said her son was recovering and was surrounded by friends. "He's had an outpouring of support. He's just devastated," she said.

Leslie Stich said her son had been dating Hopper for about two months and met on a robotics team at West. They attended the North Salem prom together last weekend.

Friends struggle with teen's death

May 3, 2005
Dan De Carbonel
Statesman Journal

Students at West Salem High School returned to a campus Monday that seemed a bit emptier without classmate Samantha Hopper.

Spending much of the day sharing hugs and memories of the bright and cheerful junior, students and faculty leaned on one another for support.

Hopper, 17, and her date, North Salem senior Kevin Stich, crashed into a railroad trestle while traveling to the West Salem High School prom Saturday night.


Hopper died a few hours after the crash. Stich survived the crash with minor injuries and was at West Salem High on Monday sharing his grief with Hopper's other close friends.

"It's been really subdued all day," said Andrew Esther, 17, a West Salem junior. "We're just soaking it in. No one was very talkative, but there was a lot of laughing and crying as we were sharing the memories of the good times."

Grief counselors will remain on campus as long as needed, school officials said.

The Marion County Sheriff's Office has ruled out alcohol or drugs being involved in the crash, Deputy Kevin Rau said.

That didn't surprise friends, who said Stich and Hopper stayed away from drugs and alcohol. Others said it was particularly hard to understand why the crash happened, because Stich had a reputation for being a careful driver.

"Out of all the people this had to happen to, to have it happen to Sam and Kevin doesn't make sense," Esther said. "It doesn't seem fair. I'm still in shock."

Lauren Lundy, junior class president at West Salem, said she expected classmates to continue to lean on one another during the difficult days ahead.

"I know Sam would want us to stay strong," Lundy said. "We just have to make sure we stick together and really unify as a class."

Esther said that when he thinks of Hopper, he always thinks of her smile.

"If she was in a crowd, she always stood out with her smile," he said. "A picture of her wouldn't do her justice."

Friends said that behind the smile was an extremely intelligent, focused and determined person who accepted nothing less than the best from herself or others.

"She would never let me just slide by," Esther said. "She'd always try and get me to do better on something because she believed in me."

Hopper and friend Amy Hafer and other members of the West Salem robotics team were preparing to attend a competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology next month. They will go, but minus one big part of the team.

"We planned to go to college together. Even if I make a million dollars, it wouldn't matter," Hafer said. "It's the relationships you make and the friendships you make that is important in life."