It was a matter of inches. Just a few inches to the left and 18-year-old Taylor Scott Swing’s car would have struck a tree. Had the car gone just a few inches to the right, it would have hit the railing of the Gene Nix Road Bridge. Just a few inches, one way or the other, and you might not be reading this story.
As it happened, the car missed the tree and the bridge, sailing through a narrow gap between the two and landing upside down in the water. The White County Coroner’s Office says Swing and his passenger, 16-year-old Cecily Hamilton drowned.
Sunday, the narrow road on both sides of the bridge is lined with cars. Teenagers, friends of Swing (they call him T-Swing Truth) and Cecily gathered at the bridge as news of the accident spread. The girls speak to each other in whispers. The boys are a more vocal. They talk about the packed dirt road and how much fun it is to “fly down it” in their cars. They measure the distance between tree and bridge with their eyes, trying to figure out how the accident that claimed their friends’ lives could have happened.
Charlotta Clark, who lives just up the hill from the creek, came out to talk to her visitors. She reminds the teens, as adults often do, that this type of thing can happen to anyone. “It should make you think,” she tells them. Despite living within sight of the scene, Clark says “We heard nothing, nothing at all.” She was unaware of the death on her doorstep until someone told her early on Sunday.
The only sign of the crash left now is the distinctive pinkish/orange paint investigators use to mark the point where the car left the road.
The water of Town Creek rolls impassively on under a makeshift red rope swing. It’s a popular swimming hole for local teens according to Drew Cross, “We used to swim here all the time back in high school.” He smiles at the memory but it quickly fades and emotion clouds his face, “Nobody ever crashed here before.” He looks away, down at the creek, and says “White County is too small for something like this.”
White County School Superintendent Dr. Jeff Wilson reminds me that the concept of death is alien to most teenagers. They live within what psychologists sometimes call a “personal fable” in which they are immortal and risk taking is common place. The death of a close friend can shatter this illusion.
Dr. Wilson expects there will be some difficult days ahead for White County Schools. They prepare for things like this, the death of a student, but they are never really ready. “We have our crisis team and there will be counselors for each classroom.” In the middle of our phone conversation he seems to remember something and stops talking. After a pause he says quietly, “The sister of one of the students also attends. I doubt she’ll be at school but we’ll need to have counselors for her friends.”
Back on the bridge, the teens stay until just before sundown. They sit on the bridge railing and stare down into the water. “He named himself T-Swing Truth and it stuck because he was. Truth, I mean,” says Colton Castles. “He was loved. He’ll be remembered forever by all of us.” The other young men nod their approval.