13-year-old took dad's SUV for spin

The call came in around 1 a.m.

That's when Timmy and Sandra Eller first found out their 13-year-old daughter, Haley, had taken the SUV out for a midnight ride.

On the other end of the line, the father of one of Haley's friends told them he'd found Haley at his house in the wee hours of Thursday morning.

She'd driven the Explorer over.

"He tried to get her to come in the house, but she left," Timmy Eller said.

Eller went out searching for Haley, and one of the first places he looked was Turtle Pond Road, a dirt road near their house where he and his daughter often rode their four-wheelers.

And there Eller found his Explorer, flipped upside down on a small bridge. He saw her leg first, then walked around the wreck. He saw her face, and reached down to touch her neck, feeling for a pulse that was not there.

"She was headed home," Eller said.

Haley Constance Eller died Thursday morning after losing control of the 1995 SUV she was driving. The talented artist and lover of all things outdoors left behind a family and school full of friends in shock.

Many kids had to leave Sangaree Middle School early Thursday, unable to cope with the loss of one of the brightest, most popular eighth-graders at the Ladson school.

"She was a very popular student," Principal Jude Gehlmann said, "well-liked, a fabulous artist."

It had been an eventful day for Haley Eller. She had finished a landscape painting, a surprise Christmas present for her parents, and had worked on her entry for the upcoming Wildlife Expo.

She'd gotten into an argument with a teacher and, later, was reprimanded by her father, who told her she had to respect her elders.

By bedtime, everything seemed to be fine.

"She came in and kissed me on the cheek, and said 'Good night, daddy. I love you,' " Timmy Eller said.

A few hours later, Eller got the call.

The father of Haley's friend drove over to the Eller house, said he'd heard something about Dorchester Road. But Eller figured his daughter — who had driven the car around the neighborhood, with her mother and father, before — would go home. That's when he checked Turtle Pond Road.

The Highway Patrol says the SUV had veered off one side of the road and that Haley had over-corrected, steering the Explorer off the other side of the road. There, it hit the bridge abutment. Glenn Rhoad, Berkeley County coroner, said she died of the trauma of the crash.

On Thursday afternoon, Haley's family visited the bridge, left behind flowers, met with friends who stopped by.

"She was energetic, smart and she loved her art," her mother, Sandra, said.

Carrie Jacobs, 13, said she had been friends with Haley since she moved to the Lowcountry years ago.

"She was a really nice girl and she knew how to cheer everybody up," Jacobs said. "I'm going to miss the way she made me smile."

Haley will be remembered for her love of horses — she had one she kept on Johns Island — and her art. Sharon Lanneau-Klim, the guidance director, said Thursday she and other counselors had to console students and staff alike.

Lanneau-Klim said the staff is going to have Haley's last painting framed for her parents. It is a nighttime landscape with a house and barn in the background.

When Sandra Eller learned of her daughter's final gift to her, she wept at the crash site.

"I knew she was working on a surprise for us," Sandra Eller said.

Nita Birmingham contributed to this report.