Local news

Teen driver in crash that killed two girls under investigation

The driver of a car that crashed into a tree Oct. 5, killing two University High School girls, had his license for one day.

Preston Maher, 16, is now under investigation for vehicular homicide, according to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. Josie Freier, 15, and McKenzie Mott, 16, died in the accident at South Bates Road and East Ponderosa Drive in Spokane Valley.

Investigators said Maher told friends at a party that he intended to speed along Bates and catch air on what teens call the “Ponderosa Jump,” the top of a steep hill at the Ponderosa intersection.

Maher drove at freeway speeds in the residential area, said Deputy Craig Chamberlin. As he steered around a curve at the base of the hill, he lost control of the vehicle and drove into a tree in a ditch. All three teens were wearing seat belts, and alcohol has been ruled out as a factor.

“All the elements are falling in line,” Chamberlin said. “That doesn’t mean he’s going to be charged.”

Deputies were unfamiliar with the jump before the accident, Chamberlin said.

“It’s never been known to law enforcement or else we would have paid closer attention,” Chamberlin said.

Since Maher only had his license for a day and didn’t have a driving history, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office filed a search warrant for his driving school records. They found nothing remarkable, however, to indicate that he was a reckless or dangerous driver.

As a new driver, Maher was not allowed to have anyone else in his car other than family members for six months.

Chamberlin said Washington’s intermediate driver’s license is intended to prevent accidents like this, adding that he hopes it becomes a “learning tool for other young drivers.”

The makeshift memorial for the teenagers at the crash site continues to grow. Burned-out candles, photos and stuffed animals cover the sidewalk, but a few fresh bouquets are also scattered there. The golden letters “Pray for Preston” are just visible on a falling sign hung from one of the trees in the ditch where the car crashed.

“The real tragedy is that we lost two precious lives,” Chamberlin said.

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