Former Lipan valedictorian, 3 others die

May 1, 2013

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A two-vehicle, head-on collision late Sunday afternoon in Erath County claimed the life of 2012 Lipan High School valedictorian Courtney Kay Smalley and three other people under 30 years old.

There were no survivors.

Smalley, 18, a freshman at Tarleton State University, was reportedly traveling back to Stephenville for the start of this week’s classes with a passenger, 19-year-old Kimberly Genice Peacock of Fort Worth.

The 1998 Volkswagen 2-door Smalley was driving southbound on U.S. Highway 281 crossed the center line into the northbound lane at about 4:30 p.m., striking a 2006 Mercedes 4-door car head-on, according to the DPS report provided by Senior Trooper Dub Gillum.

The driver and passenger in the Mercedes, 29-year-old Matthew Lee Keith and his wife, 26-year-old Tsanti Cholla “Audrey” Keith, both of Searcy, Ark., also died.

The accident occurred 7.5 miles north of Morgan Mill on U.S. Highway 281.

All four were wearing a seat belt, the DPS report shows. They were pronounced dead at 6 p.m. by Erath Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Bart Greenway.

LHS Spanish and Yearbook teacher Cindi Fields, who taught Smalley for four years, including advanced Spanish, said it was a tragic loss.

“She was going to be wonderful, whatever she chose to do in life,” Fields said. “She was just a good, all-around person. She was the type of kid who could get along with young kids, up to adults.”

Fields said she was a responsible, mature student voted as the school’s Most Likely to Succeed twice, and was chosen Best All-Around Girl her senior year by vote of the school’s faculty. She was a member of the National Honor Society, editor of the LHS yearbook her senior year, regularly voted as a class officer, and was active in One Act Play.

“She was an outstanding young lady,” said Fields, who had her two years on the yearbook staff. “She was very conscientious with her work. She was somebody you could always count on to get things done.”

Fields noted that Smalley worked as a babysitter in the community and said her goal was to become a kindergarten teacher.

“She was good with kids and had a bright future ahead of her,” Fields said.

Smalley was an only child, and lived in Lipan with her mother Priscilla Smalley, Fields said.

Lipan area resident Dusty Burrow said that her granddaughter Ashton Higgins and Smalley were best friends.

“She was a very outgoing person,” Burrow said of Smalley. “Everything she did, she did positively. She was just an amazing child. She put extra effort into everything she did – with a smile on her face. I don’t think I ever saw that girl not smile.”

Smalley and Peacock were sorority sisters at TSU, Burrow said. Smalley was an interdisciplinary freshman student, while Peacock was a sophomore animal science major, the Empire-Tribune reported.

According to the Stephenville Empire-Tribune, Matthew Keith was a former TSU student who studied physics and math. He and his wife Audrey had been visiting Keith’s parents and were on their way back to Arkansas. Keith’s father, David Keith, is pastor of First Baptist Church in Carlton, southwest of Hico.

Funeral services for Smalley are pending at Wiley Funeral Home in Granbury.

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