Crime

Mother, daughter killed in crash remembered as 'beautiful souls'; teen driver arrested

Two dead in major collision on Tully Road in Modesto

Emergency crews responded to a multi-vehicle accident at Tully and Rumble roads that left two people dead in Modesto, CA, on Wednesday, Nov.29, 2017. (John Holland/jholland@modbee.com)
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Emergency crews responded to a multi-vehicle accident at Tully and Rumble roads that left two people dead in Modesto, CA, on Wednesday, Nov.29, 2017. (John Holland/jholland@modbee.com)

A 16-year-old girl is in juvenile hall on suspicion of killing a mother and daughter in a high-speed, DUI crash on Modesto's Tully Road Wednesday night.

Megan Cooley, 21, was driving a Ford south on Tully Road with her mother, Sherri Cooley, 54, when she started to make an eastbound turn onto Rumble Road and was hit by a Mercedes-Benz traveling north at an excessive speed, according to the Modesto Police Department.

The Ford flipped over and came to rest in front of a home, 168 feet north of the intersection, said department spokeswoman Heather Graves.

First responders worked for some time to free the mother and daughter who were trapped inside the Ford.

Sherri Cooley died at the scene. Megan Cooley was rushed to a local hospital where she succumbed to her injuries. Both are from Modesto, police spokeswoman Heather Graves said.

Emergency crews responded to a multi-vehicle accident at Tully and Rumble roads that left two people dead in Modesto, CA, on Wednesday, Nov.29, 2017. (John Holland/jholland@modbee.com)

Officers with the Modesto Police Department Traffic Unit responded to the scene to continue the investigation.

The 16-year-old female driver of the Mercedes and her two passengers – her 14-year-old brother and a 16-year-old boy – were taken to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The names of the teens – all from Modesto – were not released.

After the 16-year-old driver was medically cleared, she was booked into Juvenile Hall on suspicion of two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while under the influence.

Sherri and Megan Cooley lived nearby and had just left their home to run errands when the crash occurred.

Sherri Cooley's cousins, Michelle Coppin and Linda Colby, said she was a kind, unique person who put her family first and that her daughter, Megan, inherited many of her best qualities.

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Firefighters work the scene of a fatal crash that took the lives of Megan and Sherri Cooley, who were killed when the vehicle they were in was struck by a speeding Mercedes on Tully Road in Modesto, California, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. Modesto Fire Department

"They were just both such beautiful souls and it is so hard to understand why this happened," Coppin said. "We are devastated ... it’s just so hard not to be really angry."

The cousins said Megan Cooley was working and attending junior college and lived at home with mom and her dad, Steve Waldron. Sherri's Cooley's father, Jack Cooley, who undergoes dialysis four times a week, also lives with them and Sherri has been caring for him for years, the cousins said.

"She was a unique, wonderful person; we looked forward to her walking through the door at family events," Colby said. "Her insights and her sensitivity to everything around her was amazing."

"She was so smart and empathetic, a very wise soul," Coppin said. "She was an only child so I think that made her always kind of wiser than her years."

The last time the family was all together was for a wedding at South Lake Tahoe in May.

Megan's cousin, Caitlyn Strong, said she had her last conversation with her that day.

"God clearly knew those were going to be our last moments together," she said in an email. "At the beginning of that day we sat on the floor of my mom's kitchen and did our makeup together, making sure we both looked just right. We danced all night; laughing, crying, celebrating together. She was a special treat to have at every family event. There is forever a part of me gone now."

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Emergency crews responded to a multi-vehicle accident at Tully and Rumble roads that left two people dead in Modesto, Calif. on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. John Holland jholland@modbee.com

Sherri and Megan Cooleys' lives ended tragically and this was not the first time the family has endured tragedy.

Sherri Cooley's eldest son, Brandon, died in 2000 when he was 16. He drowned after falling from a raft on the Tuolumne River near Groveland during a church camping trip.

A few years before, Sherri Cooley lost an eight-week old child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Coppin said.

Josh Cooley, now Sherri Cooley's only surviving child, recently became a father and Coppin said Sherri was overjoyed to have become a grandmother.

The crash that took their lives is the 10th fatal crash in Modesto this year and the third resulting from impaired driving, Graves said.

There also was an abnormally high number of DUI arrests for a Wednesday night, she said. The 16-year-old girl's arrest was one of four DUI arrests in Modesto from about 8 p.m. Wednesday to 1 a.m. Thursday.

Just before 8 p.m., a 52-year-old man was arrested in downtown Modesto on suspicion of driving under the influence of methamphetamine, possession of a controlled substance and driving on a suspended license.

Thirty minutes later, the deadly DUI crash occurred on Tully.

While officers were on scene investigating, dispatchers received a 911 call at about 10:30 p.m. of a possible DUI driver on Briggmore Avenue. Officers located the 32-year-old male driver passed out in a vehicle in the driveway of a business at Briggsmore and Coffee Road, Graves said. The vehicle was on and in drive, she said.

And hours later, around 1 a.m., at the scene of the fatal crash, another suspected drunk driver nearly drove into officers who were still there investigating. The 32-year-old man behind the wheel was arrested on suspicion of DUI.

Also in Turlock on Wednesday night, a suspected DUI driver crashed into a power pole on Chestnut Street, knocking out power to multiple downtown locations.

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