'Both of us were trying to get home.' Death, road rage incident under investigation after 2 Wallkill crashes

Authorities in Ulster County say two mysterious crashes within minutes and miles of each other forced two women off road in their cars Friday and killed one of them.

Blaise Gomez

Sep 26, 2022, 9:13 PM

Updated 604 days ago

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Authorities in Ulster County say two mysterious crashes within minutes and miles of each other forced two women off road in their cars Friday and killed one of them.  
Sophie Samul was driving home just before 8:30 p.m. when she says she was tailgated and forcefully rear-ended for several feet by a driver on Bruyn Turnpike.
She showed News 12 the damage to her rear bumper on Monday and described the frightening ordeal. 
“The car made physical contact with me and pushed my car down about half of the Wallkill bridge and up onto the sidewalk,” said Samul. 
Samul says a driver in a black or dark-colored Jeep was tailgating her for miles in the hamlet of Wallkill and eventually rear-ended her off the road on Bruyn Turnpike. 
She called the police. While she was telling the officer what happened, Samul says another call came through for help – this time for Hailee Witherel. 
The 19-year-old was found dead in her overturned car hours later in a small pond, just past her house. 
“Hailee FaceTimed her mom at 8:37 p.m.,” said Michelle Hathaway. “She said she had been in a car accident and was in a pond and was pleading for her mom to come help her.” 
Hathaway, a family friend and neighbor who found the victim, says Witherel went off-road minutes after Samul did and just a few miles away on Sand Hill Road. 
She says the car was found with rear-end damage, just like Samul's, and that Witherel had no reason to miss her driveway.  
“Something made her pass her own house,” said Hathaway. “Why would she pass the house? It’s right here. You can see this pond from her house. I feel like she was in fear.” 
Both Samul and Hathaway learned of the other incidents through Facebook after Samul took to social media to share about the frightening experience.
State police and Shawangunk police are investigating. 
So far, authorities have not said why Witherel went off the road or whether the same driver could be to blame, but for Samul – the incidents are more than a tragic coincidence. 
“A girl is dead, and both of us were trying to get home," says Samul.
A GoFundMe page started to help support the Witherel family has raised tens of thousands of dollars. 
Anyone with information about these cases is asked to call state police at 845-691-2922


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