EARLIER: Teen charged in wreck that killed her best friend

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By Lisa King

 A Shelby County teenager has been charged in connection with an auto accident last spring that left her best friend dead just days before their high school graduation.


Jeana Searcy, 19, of Waddy has been indicted by a Shelby County Grand Jury with reckless homicide in the death of Samantha Mathus-Cooper, 18, who was a bride of just 58 days when she died on June 2. The accident happened June 2 when Searcy’s car ran off the road and through a wooden fence on Burks Branch Road, flipping several times.  Mathus-Cooper, riding in the front passenger seat, was dead at the scene, and two other passengers, Samantha’s brother, Matthew Mathus, 24, and Michael Rice, 20, were not seriously injured. Shelby County Sheriff’s Detective Jason Rice said at the time that speed was  a factor in the crash. He said alcohol and drugs were not factors. Searcy’s indictment in her friend’s death six months later is because of circumstances surrounding the accident, commonwealth’s Attorney Laura Donnell said. Donnell said that reckless homicide, a Class D Felony, is punishable by a sentence of 1 to 5 years in prison, the lowest penalty of any of the murder-related charges. The indictment states that Searcy committed the offense of reckless homicide “when she recklessly caused the death of Samantha Mathus-Cooper.” Donnell said Searcy could incur additional charges related to the accident. “We are still in the process of figuring out the extent of the injuries to her other passengers,” she said.  Jeana Searcy was not arrested in the direct indictment. No one answered calls to her home,  and she has not hired an attorney. Donnell said the tragic accident is an important case for the community. Mathus-Cooper’s mother, Sheryl Mathus, agreed. “No matter what happens, it’s not going to bring our daughter back,” she said. “But maybe it will help prevent some other family from having to go through what we’re going through now.” The accident Mathus-Cooper married Ian Cooper on April 6, 2009. She did not plan to attend her class graduation and instead was planning to join her husband at Fort Campbell on June 3. That tragic night, Searcy and Mathus-Cooper had skipped their senior Awards Night program and spent the day together and had run into Mathus and Rice at Clear Creek Park at about 9 that evening, when a storm was approaching. The men got into the car’s rear seat, and Searcy headed north on Burks Branch Road. The crash happened a few minutes later, near the intersection with Fox Run Road.  The tragedy stunned the student body at Shelby County High School, including Samantha’s principal, Michael Rowe, who described her as “the epitome of what a high school student should be.” “She always had a smile on her face,” he said. Four days later, a table located in front of the stage at what was to have her high school graduation ceremony gave testimony to the love she inspired from her friends. The memorial table was laden with flowers, teddy bears, pictures, and angel figurines that her classmates placed there as they came up to accept their own diplomas, many of them pausing to wipe away tears before they mounted the steps to the stage. The young bride’s sister-in-law, Denise Mathus, walked in her place and accepted her diploma in her behalf at the Frankfort Convention Center.   How is Samantha’s family getting along without her? One difficult day at a time, her mother said. “Her birthday was Saturday, and we had to celebrate it without her,” Sheryl Mathus said in a quiet voice. “She would have been 19 years old. The whole family, all her brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles, went to her favorite restaurant and cheered her in a toast.  “Her favorite waitress was there, too, and she said she misses not seeing her [Mathus-Cooper] come in anymore. We will always celebrate the day she came into our lives, How can we not?”