3 Arizona students returning from car event killed in crash

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PHOENIX (AP) — Three Arizona high school students enrolled in an automotive technology program were killed when a college van went off a highway on the way back from a professional drag racing event near Phoenix, officials said Saturday.

The van crashed Friday night on U.S. 70 near Pima, a rural community about 135 miles (217 kilometers) east of Phoenix, the state Department of Public Safety said in a statement. An adult was driving the van carrying seven high schoolers and one college student, the department said.

Two 16-year-old boys from the small towns of Thatcher and Fort Thomas and a 17-year-old boy from the tiny town of Duncan were ejected and killed when the van veered over the center line, went off the highway and rolled, the department and college officials said.

The driver and five other students suffered injuries that weren't life-threatening. None of the identities of the victims were released.

The high school students were enrolled in the Gila Institute for Technology, a state-funded joint education district serving Graham and Greenlee counties and were considered part-time Eastern Arizona College students, said Kris McBride, a college spokesman.

McBride said the students were part of a group traveling in two vans as they returned from a National Hot Rod Association event in suburban Phoenix.

“It would be directly relatable to what they were studying at the program," McBride said.

He said he didn't know whether the adult driver was a college employee.

The cause and circumstances of the crash were under investigation, but it didn't appear drug or alcohol impairment was a factor, the Department of Public Safety said.

College President Todd Haynie said the students' deaths were a “tragic loss" and the school was offering counseling for those needing support.

“We join the entire Gila Valley community in prayer for the families and friends of these students and send our heartfelt condolences to them," Haynie said in a statement.

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