PETERSBURG, Mich. - According to her friends, Jessica Medlen was a good kid whose 14 years had been marred by the problems of a broken home and other difficulties.
Sometime after midnight yesterday, Jessica took her mother's car - a Pontiac Grand Am - without permission. She was joined by her good friend, Mary Fultz, 14, also of Petersburg, for a joyride around this village of 1,200 residents in western Monroe County.
Their ride ended in tragedy after a Monroe County sheriff's deputy attempted to stop Jessica's car, which was without headlights. Jessica fled, lost control of the car, and crashed. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Mary was transported from Petersburg to Toledo Hospital, 30 miles to the south, where she was in fair condition last night. "This is a senseless, highly preventable tragedy," said Sgt. Frank Atkinson of the sheriff department's traffic division.
Members of the Medlen family could not be reached for comment last night.
Carol Fultz, Mary's mother, said Jessica was a "good girl" who never meant to cause any harm.
"I cared for her very much," Ms. Fultz said.
"She was a beautiful girl and
very personable. She wanted to be a model."
Ms. Fultz said she was shocked last night after inspecting the wrecked car in which the two girls were riding.
"I don't know how my daughter survived," she said.
"It was all smashed and looked like it rolled over a few times."
The girls had spent Wednesday afternoon playing with friends, according to 13-year-old Montana Gardner, who had been with them much of the day.
He said Mary had just completed eighth grade at Summerfield Middle School but that Jessica had transferred to another school last year.
He said Jessica had three older siblings and that her parents have been split up for some time.
"She had a rough time, but she always had friends there to help her," Montana said.
On Wednesday night, Kris Hewitt, 19, of Petersburg was playing basketball with Jessica's brother, Brandon Medlen, when Jessica and her mother stopped by to pick up Brandon in the Grand Am about 10 p.m., Mr. Hewitt said.
"I feel terrible for him," he said.
According to deputies, Jessica was spotted on Railroad Street about 2 a.m. by Deputy Dana Blair, who was on routine patrol.
Deputy Blair activated her emergency lights and attempted to stop the car, but Jessica fled east on Railroad, exceeding the 55 mph speed limit, Sergeant Atkinson said.
A short time later, Jessica lost control of the car, which struck a culvert and turned over, coming to rest on its top.
Jessica, who was not wearing a seat belt, was partially ejected from the vehicle, Sergeant Atkinson said.
Mary, who was wearing her seat belt, remained in the front passenger seat. "Without a doubt, that saved her life," the sergeant added.
Sergeant Atkinson said Deputy Blair did not know the vehicle was being driven by a minor.
"She was doing her job," he said of Deputy Blair. "But you could tell she was upset."
Sergeant Atkinson said he hoped other youths learned from the incident.
"She was a 14-year-old inexperienced driver attempting to handle a vehicle she obviously could not handle.
"She was doing all the wrong things," Sergeant Atkinson added.
Jessica's friend Montana said: "I don't think it was a good idea. It's common sense not to take your mother's car."
Contact George J. Tanber at:
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