A 15-year-old Warren Township High School student died Tuesday morning after a one-car crash near Grayslake that one county official called "heartbreaking."
The girl, Taylor Mae Stinchcomb, died at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville after being extricated from the crash wreckage on Almond Road, about a quarter mile south of Route 120, sheriff officials said.
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Stinchcomb, upset that her beloved dog had been diagnosed with cancer and might be euthanized, apparently took the Stinchcombs' 2003 Dodge minivan without permission late Monday night, authorities said.
She, along with an unidentified 15-year-old friend and the dog, a Doberman named Romulus, went for a ride. Taylor was initially behind the wheel, investigators said, but she was too upset over the dog and asked the unidentified 15-year-old friend to drive.
The other girl took over and went south on Almond, drove to Casey Road, turned around, and was heading back north on Almond at about 12:45 a.m. when the minivan crashed into several trees and a utility pole on the east side of Almond Road.
A passer-by who witnessed the crash ran up to the minivan and used the driver's cellphone to dial 911, said Lt. Christopher Thompson of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.
Stinchcomb was trapped in the passenger seat of the vehicle, and was extracted by Grayslake Fire and Rescue and taken to Condell, Thompson said.
The teen was breathing and talking before being transported, but died about an hour later from multiple internal injuries, said Lake County Coroner Artis Yancey.
The second 15-year-old, whose name is being withheld by police due to her age, was treated at the scene and released, Thompson said.
The dog, Romulus, also died in the crash.
"That dog was everything to her," said Mallorie Holler, Taylor's older sister who was at the family home in Gurnee on Tuesday and acting as spokeswoman.
"(Until) the very end, they were together," she added.
Romulus was Taylor's 13th birthday present, and she chose to adopt him from a shelter instead of getting a puppy.
Romulus was diagnosed with cancer only two years later, near Stinchcomb's 15th birthday on June 4, Holler said.
Holler said Taylor was a fun-loving girl, not afraid of anything, and a loyal friend who was always there for her family.
"She was on a horse before she could barely walk," Holler recalled. "She loved softball and she has been doing it since she was little. She was very into her youth group and her church."
Drugs and alcohol do not appear to be a factor in the accident, officials said, and an autopsy was expected to be done at the Lake County Coroner's Office.
"This case is absolutely heartbreaking," said Lake County Undersheriff Charles Fagan. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of both girls involved in this incident."
According to sheriff's police, the driver had been wearing a seat belt, but police don't believe Stinchcomb was wearing one.
Taylor was going to be a sophomore at Warren Township High School's O'Plaine Road campus, said Principal Jeff Brierton. He said she was well-liked by teachers and students.
"Everyone here is shocked at this point. It seems all too often we hear these stories," Brierton said. "She was an excellent athlete, an excellent student, and we are really going to miss her."
Holler said her sister was thinking about going to Purdue University in three years, and more immediately was planning for a church mission trip next week.
"She was my baby sister," Holler said. "She was there for everything all the time."