The community is mourning the death of a Sampson County teenager, claimed in a grisly wreck in Wayne County over the weekend, leaving family and friends, as well as students and faculty at Hobbton High School, devastated at the sudden loss of Damian Chase Wooldridge.
Wooldridge, 18, a 2017 graduate of Hobbton High and a football player during his time at the school, was reportedly traveling to work before 8 a.m. Saturday when he lost control of his vehicle on N.C. 55, near N.C. 403, about 4.8 miles east of Mount Olive. Wooldridge, who lived on Houses Mill Road, Newton Grove, was reportedly working at Butterball LLC.
Sgt. Michael Dorsey, of the Highway Patrol in Wayne County, said that during the course of investigation, troopers found that the 2000 Chrysler passenger car being driven by Wooldridge was traveling east on N.C. 55 when it ran off the right side of the road before overcorrecting and returning to the roadway, crossing the centerline and sliding into oncoming traffic. The car was struck on the passenger’s side by a 2001 Freightliner tractor-trailer traveling the opposite way, according to reports.
That tractor-trailer was being driven by Michael Ray Stevens, 57, of LaGrange. The 18-wheeler caught fire after the impact, however Stevens was able to escape injury. Wooldridge was pronounced dead at the scene, believed to be killed instantly as a result of the collision.
“He was pronounced deceased at the scene. As a result of the collision, the Chrysler was split in half and the driver was killed and ejected upon impact,” said Dorsey. “There was a post-crash in the cab of the Freightliner, but no injuries to that driver.”
Dorsey noted that Wooldridge “was not properly restrained” at the time of the collision, leading to the ejection. Troopers are still investigating the possible cause of the vehicle going out of control, but pointed to a possible distraction from inside or outside the vehicle that led to inattention.
“It could have possibly been a cellular device, but we will likely never know if it was something in or outside the vehicle that was a distraction,” said Dorsey. “That portion is something that troopers are still looking at.”
Alcohol was definitely not a factor and speeding was also not listed as contributing to the wreck.
Wooldridge’s death was the 14th and final death on Wayne County roadways in 2017, compared to 17 in 2016, Dorsey said.
The trooper offered his condolences following Saturday’s wreck and said, while the drop in total fatalities was a silver lining, one death — especially when it cuts a young life so short — is still too many.
“It’s still not the zero we want to see,” Dorsey said of the amount of roadway deaths, “but it’s positive to see a reduction.”
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