UPDATE: Mechanicsville teen dies after car strikes trees, fence

Posted at 3:38 PM, Mar 21, 2014

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) -- Investigators are working to find out what caused a 19-year-old driver to run off a rural road early just before 7:45 a.m. Friday in Hanover County.

"I didn't know what in the world has happened.  It's a fairly rural area,” said a neighbor who wished to remain anonymous.

The woman lives nearby and spotted the accident scene on her way to work.

"You couldn't see anyone from the front of the car.  It looked like maybe she was slouched down in the seat.  It didn't look good.  The driver's side was very damaged,” said an unidentified neighbor.

"Preliminary investigation indicates that a 1995 Honda Accord was traveling west on Piping Tree Ferry Road near Old Church Road when it ran off the right side of the roadway," Hanover County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Chris Whitley said in an email. "This caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle, which struck several trees and a wooden fence before coming to rest."

The driver, identified as 19-year-old Joelle Y. Howard, of Mechanicsville, died as a result of the crash.

Howard was flown to VCU Medical Center by Virginia State Police Med-Flight and later pronounced dead. Deputies said she was not wearing a seat belt.

"You do have to be careful when you're passing each other because there's not a lot of space,” the neighbor said.

CBS 6 spoke with the Howard’s family who were too distraught to talk on camera, but said the victim was on her way home before she somehow crashed her car.

The community is trying to understand why a young life was cut so short.

"It's horrible,” said the neighbor.  "I think everyone that's heard about the community their heart goes out to the family."

The investigation into the crash remains ongoing.