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West Potomac Says Farewell

West Potomac community buries three of its own after fatal crash on graduation day.

For her first grade Christmas, Lydia Petkoff received her first plastic bat and ball and a softball career that lasted until early high school was born.

Petkoff's father Richard remembers taking his small blond-haired daughter out to the front of the house on that early Christmas day. He told her where to stand and he moved a couple of steps away to toss the ball to her nice and easy.

On her first try, Lydia Petkoff hit clear over the roof of the house. After that success, she wanted to hit the ball over the house again and again and again. Her father stayed outside with her tossing her the ball over and over, he said.

"From the beginning, Lydia had her dad wrapped around her finger," said Richard Petkoff, while speaking from a church pulpit at his 18-year-old daughter's funeral. Just nine days before, he had been celebrating her high school graduation at a barbecue in his backyard.

"For the first time in my life, I was looking forward to paying bills. [To paying] for her college," Petkoff told the packed church.

Lydia Petkoff, 18, her cousin Sarah Carter, 19, friend Renee Shelkin, 18, and Carter's roommate Elaine "Nettie" Thackston, 20, were killed in a car crash June 14.

The four girls were riding in Thackston's Volkswagen Cabriolet when the car collided with a tractor-trailer carrying frozen food near the intersection of Interstate 95 and the Capital Beltway. One passenger in the Volkswagen, 17-year-old Jena Rexroat, survived the crash.

Petkoff and Shelkin had graduated from West Potomac High School just hours before the crash. Carter, a 2005 West Potomac graduate, and Thackston of Troy, N.H., had just finished their second year at George Mason University. Rexroat was scheduled to graduate from West Potomac at the end of the summer.

Friends and family held a joint service for Petkoff and Carter at Aldersgate United Methodist Church on Collingwood Road June 23. Shelkin's funeral took place the day before at Good Shepherd Catholic Church on Mount Vernon Highway. Thackston's funeral was in New Hampshire.

All three local girls were close friends and are buried near one another in Mt. Comfort Cemetery, according to the family.

Outside of softball, Petkoff had enjoyed swimming, basketball and cheerleading, despite asthma and allergies. But Petkoff's true passion, the one she hoped to pursue professionally, was fashion.

Petkoff was headed to Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall to study fashion design and hoped one day to take her talents to New York City. Like all true fashion lovers, her shoe collection was large and well known among friends and family.

"Lydia loved to shop. She was very observant and always noticed what people wore," said her mother Joan Van Ryzin during the funeral.

When Petkoff went shopping, she often hit the stores with her cousin and close friend Carter.

"Lydia's first best friend was her cousin Sarah. The two girls shared everything," said Richard Petkoff. "When this tragedy struck our family, we took a double hit."

Among Carter's favorite items were her Chanel sunglasses, which she wore at all times, day and night, wrote Carter's mother Susan in e-mail.

"She loved to shop and try on all clothes. Her favorite store was Forever 21," added Susan Carter.

In addition to good fashion sense, Carter was a good friend. She enjoyed talking to people, young and old, and they enjoyed talking to her, wrote her mother.

During the funeral, Carter's boyfriend Joel Middleton told mourners: "Sarah was the most genuine person I had ever met. Sarah was beyond her years. She had faith in God, love and humanity."

In an interview, Middleton said one of his favorite memories of Carter was this year's Valentine's Day. Carter made Middleton a heart-shaped cake and surrounded it with rows of cup cakes in a giant box. After Middleton opened the box, he and Carter ate the cake and all the cupcakes that day.

"I couldn't sit still in a class because of the sugar rush. I was sick for like three days," said Middleton, who graduated from George Mason University in May.

Carter's boyfriend never met Shelkin directly but he remembers one phone call to his girlfriend's cell phone where Shelkin picked up suddenly and was singing.

"She just answered singing. I thought Sarah might have changed her answering machine. I didn't know it was her friend," said Middleton.

The story doesn't seem out the ordinary for Shelkin, who was known for her light-hearted nature and sense of humor.

"Renee was not burdened by all the countless stresses and strains of everyday life that we all suffer from. As a result, she was by far the funniest, happiest person I knew," wrote her father Paul in a statement read at the funeral.

Shelkin was also the type of person who brought people together.

"Renee, without even realizing it, gave me the greatest gift a man could ever ask for. You see, she was the one responsible for her mother and I falling in love," wrote Shelkin's stepfather Jeff Munn in a statement read at the funeral.

The bond Shelkin formed with Munn's daughter when they were both 6 allowed Shelkin's mother and Munn to get to know each other and fall in love, he wrote.

"Who could have known that one little bubbling blond haired girl could change my life forever? That was Renee, pure and simple," wrote Munn.

Despite her premature death, Shelkin had experiences that many people wait an entire lifetime to see. By the time she was 10, she had been to 12 different countries including Switzerland, Egypt, Morocco and France.

While living in Germany with her mother and stepfather for three years, she studied and spoke languages. She also loved to ski and played the saxophone, said Munn.