UPDATED: Local teenager fighting for her life after Kill Devil Hills crash

A teenage girl is fighting for her life after a Tuesday evening crash on U.S. 158 in Kill Devil Hills caused by a possible drunken driver, police say.

The two-vehicle wreck happened at 6:27 p.m. at East Palmetto Street when a 2003 Volvo XC90 T6 sports utility vehicle operated by Merlin Garrett Cole, 23, of Colington was traveling west on East Palmetto Street and made a left turn onto U.S. 158, police said in a news release. Cole had one passenger inside his vehicle.

At the same time, a 2010 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited sports utility vehicle operated by a 17-year-old boy was traveling south in the inside lane of U.S. 158 approaching the intersection with Palmetto Street. The 17-year-old and his front passenger, a 16-year-old girl, were secured in a safety belt. A 16-year-old girl in the rear passenger seat was not secured in a safety belt. She was ejected from the Jeep, which rolled at least six times, and suffered life-threatening injuries, police said.

A GoFundMe established for the family of the teen, identified as First Flight High School student Tatum Love, had already collected more than $5,000 Wednesday morning.

“Tatum is a beautiful 16 year old girl who brightens everyone’s day with her presence and positivity. She is on the First Flight High school swim and lacrosse team in which she loves playing both sports,” said organizer Fiona McKenna. “She has made many friends over the years because of her warm kind soul and has an amazing family who is remaining strong for her during this uncertain time. Medical bills are the last thing the Love family should be concerned about. Any donation helps. Please Keep sweet Tatum in your prayers. <3”

Tatum is at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital where she remained in critical condition on Wednesday morning.

Roadway evidence and driver statements obtained at the scene indicate that the Volvo SUV operated by Cole turned U.S. 158 without coming to a complete stop at the stop sign at the intersection with Palmetto Street, the release said.

A 16-year-old girl was critically injured in a crash Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021 on U.S. 158 in Kill Devil Hills. [Kill Devil Hills police photo]
As the Volvo entered the inside southbound travel lane it collided with the Jeep Wrangler, which caused the Jeep to flip. The front seat 16-year-old passenger suffered non-life-threatening injuries and refused medical transport to the hospital. The 17-year-old male driver also had non-life-threatening injuries and refused treatment, police said.

Neither occupant of the Volvo SUV complained of injuries.

Officers were able to detect an odor of alcohol on Cole’s breath, the release said. An alcohol screening device test was administered with a positive reading. Cole was taken to the Outer Banks Hospital for a consent blood draw for testing. Criminal charges are pending.

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Kari Pugh is digital director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, 94.5 WCMS and News Talk 92.3 WZPR. Reach her at kpugh@jammediallc.com