Union High School students, staff and the surrounding community are mourning the loss of one of their own following another harrowing deadly vehicle accident in the county Friday night.
Mason Lee Barnes, 16, was killed in a single-vehicle accident as he traveled northbound on Beulah Road, which runs parallel to U.S. 701 south of Clinton. N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper J.F. Smith investigated the wreck, which happened at 11:45 p.m. Friday, just south of John Mark Road about 3.7 miles south of Clinton.
He said Barnes was driving a 2008 H3 Hummer when he lost control in a “slight curve” in the roadway, Smith said. The Hummer ran off the right side of the roadway and through a ditch before striking a driveway culvert. After the SUV struck the culvert, it then hit a tree and went airborne.
“The vehicle overturned multiple times and when it came to rest it was engulfed in flames,” the trooper said.
Barnes was estimated to be traveling between 80-85 mph at the time. Due to the intense nature of the collision, Sampson County Medical Examiner Dr. Carl Barr was expected to make an official confirmation that the victim was Barnes.
“The vehicle burned. Anytime there is that kind of injury, you have to be able to go back to medical records,” said Smith. “It’s just a formality.”
He noted that “everything was still under investigation,” but also attested that speed was the “sole contributing factor in the wreck.”
According to Smith, it was speculated that Barnes was involved in what the trooper deemed a “minor hit-and-run” accident in the Walmart parking lot at Sampson Crossing in Clinton earlier Friday night. The Clinton Police Department was investigating that incident and the details were not immediately available. Reports were that Barnes was headed back to Walmart to deal with that situation when he lost control of his vehicle.
News of Barnes’ death started trickling into the community early Saturday morning. Union High School opened at 11 a.m. Saturday for students who needed counseling following the tragic death of their classmate, who was a member of the school’s JROTC program.
“It is with deepest sympathy that we share with you the passing of one of our students, Mason Barnes. Please keep his family as well as the Union High School family in your thoughts and prayers,” a post on the Union High School Spartan Athletics Facebook page read.
Fellow students and members of the community responded with condolences and offered prayers for family and friends. A candlelight vigil in memory of Barnes was held at 8 p.m. Sunday around the flagpole at Union High School. Smith said it was a tragic occurrence, and one of the main reasons why troopers are consistently out on patrol in attempt to curb high speeds and increase safety for all motorists.
“This is why we’re out here trying to prevent wrecks,” he said. “This hurts the entire community.”
Wednesday’s deadly collision was the ninth fatal wreck on Sampson County roadways in 2016 and the 11th life claimed as a result. There have been five deaths in three wrecks in the past month alone. This was the first fatal wreck since a July 13 head-on collision on U.S. 421 near the Star Telephone offices claimed Norma Howard, 69, of Autryville. The 21-year-old driver of the log truck that crossed the center line and struck her Buick SUV was subsequently charged.
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