Hamilton High student's highway death felt at 2 schools

2010-11-16T05:45:00Z 2010-11-16T06:08:33Z Hamilton High student's highway death felt at 2 schoolsBy SEPP JANNOTTA Ravalli Republic missoulian.com
November 16, 2010 5:45 am  • 

HAMILTON - Amanda Baier, a 16-year-old new to Hamilton High School this fall from Corvallis, died Sunday morning in a two-car accident near Grantsdale.

News of the tragedy - Baier turned onto U.S. Highway 93 and was hit by a car driven by another Hamilton High student - set officials at two schools into motion preparing for a potentially difficult Monday morning.

When the Corvallis High School faculty phone tree lit up Sunday evening with a call for an emergency 7:30 a.m. faculty meeting, Principal Jason Wirt said his staff probably understood that, in all likelihood, something terrible had happened.

"It's never something that's good news," Wirt said.

And so it was in Corvallis, and in Hamilton, as administrators shared the sad news that Baier, a 10th-grader, had died.

Wirt and Kevin Conwell, principal at Hamilton, both said their schools prepared teachers and the counseling staff to be ready to help grieving students.

"She was a kid who obviously touched people's lives," Wirt said.

By the time students showed up at school, Wirt said word of Baier's death had already spread.

"They have their own phone tree set up through Facebook," Wirt said. "The kids are pretty well aware of what happened."

Judging by the busy day his counselors had Monday, there were more than just a few who were struggling with the news.

"There's no easy way to deal with the situation," Wirt said. "Our counselors have been busy."

Nancy Brown, the Corvallis High School choir teacher, said she sent a couple of her students home from Monday's rehearsals for the Western ‘A' Choir Festival at the Hamilton Performing Arts Center.

"It's been really tough," Brown said. "And music brings out the emotional part of kids."

***

Peggy Leonardi, Brown's Hamilton counterpart, agreed.

Leonardi said there were several in her group who struggled to the point where she would have allowed them to take a pass on the event.

"But they all soldiered through," Leonardi said.

That perseverance was most astonishing for a girl who was one of Baier's better friends, she added.

"She told me that the music is calming for her soul," Leonardi said. "She's been a little weepy but she's here and she's working through it."

Elsewhere at Hamilton High School, students were also trying to keep an even keel.

"Most of the students are in that space where it hasn't hit them yet or it might not, she was a fairly new student here," said Rod Meuchel, a guidance counselor at Hamilton High School.

Meuchel said he and the other counselors had seen some students who were quite upset, and some teachers.

"And I've got a couple of teachers that are struggling with it," Meuchel said. "They've built relationships and there are all those reminders, the homework, the tests to correct, those kinds of things."

Hamilton junior Kendra Newton said people were sad about Baier, but she was also troubled by how difficult it was for the girl driving the other car in the accident, who is also a junior at Hamilton and knew Baier.

"She came to school today," Newton said. "And it's been really hard on her. I think it's been awkward. People don't know how to react to her. I feel like maybe some people are misplacing their grief onto her."

Newton thought for a moment about how difficult it would be to come to school after being involved in such a tragedy.

"I'm really proud of her," she said.

Reporter Sepp Jannotta can be reached at 363-3300 or at sjannotta@ravallirepublic.com.

 

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