A DeKalb County, Ala., family is reeling after a 39-year-old Valley Head mother and her 8-year-old daughter were killed Tuesday in separate traffic accidents on the same road just 30 minutes apart.
Julia Yates Patterson and her daughter, Libby, had recently celebrated the girl's birthday, a family member told DeKalb County Coroner Tom Wilson.
The story unfolded Tuesday afternoon at two spots just 7 miles apart on Alabama Highway 117, Valley Head Police Officer Ron Ogletree said. Ogletree went to both locations as state authorities investigated the accidents, he said.
Highway 117 in DeKalb County is a winding two-lane road that runs northwest from the Georgia state line through the town of Ider into Jackson County, eventually ending at the Tennessee line.
Ogletree, a former state trooper, said the Highway Patrol Division of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is the investigating agency. Officials are trying to determine whether Libby had already heard about her mother's fatal crash and if that was related to her crossing the road in front of a Ford Focus.
Trooper Curtis Summerville, an Alabama Law Enforcement Agency spokesman, said via email Wednesday that Julia Patterson was killed and two others were injured around 3 p.m. CDT Tuesday when her Ford Explorer crashed head-on into a Dodge Ram truck between Church and School streets inside the Valley Head city limits. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The driver of the Dodge and a passenger, who were not named by authorities, were injured and taken to Erlanger hospital in Chattanooga for treatment, officials said.
About a half-hour later, Libby was struck by a 2008 Ford Focus at 3:29 p.m. CDT Tuesday on Highway 117 near County Road 641, about 4 miles east of Mentone, Ala., Ogletree said.
Ogletree said Libby had gotten off the school bus a few minutes before.
The driver of the Ford Focus was not injured or his name released by troopers. Ogletree said it appeared to him the driver did all he could to avoid hitting the girl.
"The troopers are doing a comprehensive investigation," Ogletree said, noting more details might be available by today.
"It's just a tragic, tragic thing for something like that to happen," Valley Head Mayor Lamar Bray said Wednesday. "In a little town of 500 or 600 people, everybody knows everybody or [is] related to everybody. We just request prayers for the family, and we'll all come together as a community."
Officials said the investigations into both incidents are continuing.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.