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Car accident involving Lakeside High teacher, students was a coincidence, police say

Decatur Metro ATL

Car accident involving Lakeside High teacher, students was a coincidence, police say

A diagram of the accident contained in a Decatur Police report
A diagram of the accident contained in a Decatur Police report

A diagram of the accident contained in a Decatur Police report

This story has been updated. 

Lakeside High teacher Leah O’Brien died when she was struck by a vehicle carrying two students on the way to the Lakeside High School prom on April 25. Her 8-year-old daughter was critically injured.

The Lakeside connection has perplexed some readers who wanted to know if it was a terrible coincidence or if there was more to the story.

“It was pure coincidence that this accident involved students and a teacher from the same school,” Decatur Police Lt. Jennifer Ross said. “Ms. O’Brien was attempting to turn left (from Ridley Circle), east bound onto Scott Boulevard, and the students were traveling west bound on Scott Boulevard.”

One witness who spoke to Decaturish believes that the speed of the teenagers’ car played a role in the accident, but it’s not clear if police are investigating that possibility. Ross said no additional details are being released and the investigation is ongoing.

The students were headed to the Lakeside High prom being held at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. O’Brien taught family and consumer sciences at Lakeside.

The teenagers were in a rented Dodge Charger, according to the report provided by Decatur Police.

Witness Katie Clarke said she and her husband were in a vehicle “two car lengths” behind the Charger when it turned onto Scott Boulevard. When the accident occurred, she was in front of Westchester Elementary.

The accident report shows that Decatur officers didn’t issue any traffic citations that night. The report lists the posted speed limit as 40 miles per hour. Officers at the scene wrote that O’Brien “failed to yield” when turning left onto Scott in her Hyundai Sonata. “Failed to yield” is listed as a contributing factor in the accident report.

O’Brien was transported to Grady Hospital and was pronounced dead. The driver and passenger in the Charger received non-life threatening injuries.

Clarke said she was surprised there has been no mention of excessive speed in any of the media reports about the accident. She gave her account to an officer at the scene, but her name is not among the three witnesses listed in the report given to Decaturish. She provided details about the accident that were consistent with the details provided in the report.

From Clarke’s point of view, it looked like O’Brien didn’t see the Dodge Charger coming.

Clarke said that the Charger was behind another car in the left lane of Scott Boulevard. She said she was in the right lane.

“They were bearing down on that car,” she said. “Right before they were about to jump over it, they swerved into our lane and shot up in that lane. A couple of seconds later, they hit Leah.” 

Clarke said she had no way to measure speed, aside from her own observations, but told the officer she believed the teenagers were driving over the speed limit.

“They were going so incredibly fast,” she said. Clarke said she’s been playing phone tag with a Decatur officer since Saturday and hasn’t gotten a chance to follow up.

Speed on Scott Boulevard has been an ongoing concern for Decatur residents, particularly since the reopening of Westchester Elementary School in 2014. Police have stepped up enforcement, particularly during elementary school pick up and drop off times. Ross said she is compiling information about the number of traffic citations issued on Scott Boulevard over the last few years.

The accident has rattled Lakeside High, according to media reports. The principal of the school did not return a message seeking comment. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the school made grief counselors available to students on Monday.

Clarification: The witness provided additional details regarding where she was at the time the accident occurred. This story has been updated with that information.