PLEASANTVILLE — Bibi Fernandez — her best friend by her side — stood Tuesday staring at the spot of a Monday accident that killed three teenagers, including her sister.
“I still can't believe this is real," Maribel Lopez said.
"I know," Fernandez replied. "I feel like I'm living in a bad nightmare. I'm still waiting to wake up."
The three teens, two of whom were best friends, died from injuries sustained in the crash with an NJ Transit bus in Pleasantville on Memorial Day.
Friends mourned the teens on social media Tuesday as the investigation continued into what caused the car they were traveling in to swerve into the path of the bus on Franklin Boulevard just before 2 p.m.
Kira Strider, 14, of Pleasantville, and Tevin Campbell, 18, of Absecon, died at the scene. Amber Fernandez, 16, of Pleasantville, died at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City on Tuesday, just after midnight.
The driver, identified by police as Melissa Rodriguez, 18, of Pleasantville, and two other passengers remain hospitalized.
A bouquet of heart-shaped balloons marked the scene where the car came to rest. Bibi Fernandez, 22, came to the spot Tuesday evening with a blue Rosary, her sister's favorite because of its color.
"She always wanted it, but I told her it was protecting me," Fernandez said. "Now, it's for her."
Friends remembered Amber Fernandez as someone who had a bubbly personality.
"She was loving, sarcastic and brilliant," said Jocelyn Quinn, a student at Charter Tech High School for the Performing Arts. "She was just here! Laughing ... giggling ... singing."
Amber was the youngest of six girls and one boy. The rest of the siblings were two years apart, but Amber was "the miracle baby," who excelled at singing, Bibi Fernandez said.
"She was so talented," her sister said, which is why Amber went to CharterTech.
And she was always with her best friend, Kira Strider, who died at the scene.
"Their bond was so strong, not even God could tear them apart," Bibi Fernandez said. "God took them together."
Kira, a freshman at the Atlantic County Institute of Technology, was a “very smart girl who did great in school and loved being with friends,” her cousin Melissa McCorts recalled Tuesday.
She also loved her big brother, Aaron Acompora, and getting her nails and hair done.
“This is a terrible tragedy, and the loss of a wonderful young lady with a promising future,” said former teacher Liza Levitt-Tighe.
ACIT Superintendent Phil Guenther said Kira was a very bright young lady with tremendous potential who was very well liked by students and staff.
Kira was instrumental in founding the Pleasantville Middle School's recycling program, which was recognized at the state level for its success in 2013.
Family and friends of the third victim, Tevin Campbell, could not be reached Tuesday. He had been a student at Atlantic Cape Community College, a school spokesman said.
At least one of the surviving passengers remains in critical condition, police said. The driver of the car was in stable condition.
Quinn said one of the surviving passengers was Fernandez's boyfriend.
Bibi Fernandez said Strider had just been picked up near the accident scene when the crash occurred. A friend noted there is a bump in the road near Reliance Medical Imaging, just before the spot where the car reportedly swerved. Authorities have not said if that played a role in the collision.
A reconstruction of the fatal crash is expected to be conducted within the next few days as part of the joint investigation by Pleasantville police and members of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office Fatal Collisions Unit.
According to authorities, Rodriguez had been driving north on Franklin Boulevard when she crossed into oncoming traffic just past Old Turnpike Road.
Bus driver Carmen Mazzagatti Jr., 69, of Galloway Township, tried to avoid a head-on collision, but the vehicles crashed, sending the car scraping along the side of the bus. It then spun around, and ended up facing south, with severe front-end damage.
The bus ended up on the sidewalk between two poles. There were eight passengers in the bus at the time. None of their injuries were serious.
Both drivers were tested for drugs and alcohol, as is standard procedure in fatal crashes, authorities said. Those results were not yet available.
Because she is younger than 21, Rodriguez would have driving restrictions set under the state’s Graduated Driver License law. Those limits govern driving times and how many passengers can be in a car driven by a teen.
Under the law, in order to have more than one passenger in the car, there must be someone who is at least 21 years old and has had a valid license for at least three years. Rodriguez had five passengers, and no one in the car was older than 18, police said.
The GDL also bans the use of cellphones or any other hands-free, interactive, wireless communication device. No information has been released on whether a cell phone or other electronics were being used.
Seat belts also must be worn at all times. The car did not appear to have enough seat belts for six people.
In March, the father of one of the Mainland Regional High School students killed in a Aug. 20, 2011, crash, wrote a guest column in The Press of Atlantic City, pleading with teens to follow the rules.
“To the 17 year olds: I know that you're invincible,” wrote Ted Khoury, whose son, Dean, was just 15 when he died. “I get that. My son and his friends thought they were invincible.”
Counselors were on hand to assist students and staff Tuesday at ACIT and in Pleasantville schools.
Anyone who may have witnessed Monday's crash is asked to call the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office at 609-909-7667 or Pleasantville police at 609-641-6100.
Staff Writers Anjalee Khemlani and Elisa Lala contributed to this report.
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