GILEAD – Cody Smith, 15, of West Bethel was a talented wood artisan. Keith Tedford, 17, of Gilead was a Gilead firefighter who had turned his life around and won visitation rights to see his year-old son. Jonathan Tyler, 18, was a gifted poet who moved to Gilead this winter to work as a lift attendant at Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry.

The three inseparable friends went to nearby Gorham, N.H., on Saturday night to fuel up Tyler’s 1994 Mitsubishi Eclipse and to buy cigarettes after a day’s work.

Tedford and Smith spent the day working with Tyler’s cousin, Mark Cole of Gilead, shoveling snow off roofs at the Philbrook Farm Inn in Shelburne, N.H.

Heading back to Maine and SAD 44’s Telstar High School in Bethel, where Smith was a freshman and Tedford and Tyler were former students, Tyler lost control of his speeding car on Route 2.

Fire officials at the scene who spoke with Chris Cordwell, Tedford’s stepfather, afterward said they believe the car was traveling 120 mph or faster, Cordwell said Wednesday evening at his home. The crash remains under investigation by New Hampshire State Police.

The Mitsubishi’s passenger side slammed into a snowbank opposite the place where Tedford and Smith had cleaned roofs.

Cordwell said the impact killed all three youths instantly, but the car kept moving. It rolled up over the snowbank and landed on the crushed passenger side in deep snow. Smith and Tyler were pinned inside and had to be cut free by firefighters; Tedford was partially ejected.

None was wearing a seat belt, said Cordwell, who went to the accident scene, as did Cole, Tyler’s cousin, after being notified of the tragedy.

“It still don’t seem like it’s happening. It’s a nightmare, like a dream,” Cordwell said.

“It’s a shame, it’s not fair,” Tedford’s uncle, Orin Sprague III of Rumford said, as he sat beside Cordwell.

“It’s strange. All three were best friends, they all died at the same time and in the same accident. As soon as it hit the snowbank, it was done – all three broke their necks. … I’m glad they didn’t have to suffer or nothing. They were a good bunch of boys. They raised Cain once in a while, but they were good boys,” Cordwell said.

“They were misunderstood teens, because everybody just thought these boys were bad kids, and they weren’t,” Tedford’s mother, Sherri Cordwell, said. “Everything they did, they did in the open. Keith was never one to hide his feelings. If he was mad, you knew it. If he was happy, you had a hug and a kiss. He did more for everybody else than he did for his own family.

“Right before Christmas, him and Cody … helped people move. Keith was always willing to lend a hand. That’s what he was doing that day, lending a hand to help friends shovel snow. He was an everyday average teen,” she added.

Chris Cordwell said he arrived home on Saturday from a snowmobile ride, and the boys told him they were going to get gas and cigarettes in New Hampshire.

“They said they’d be right back, because they were going to Telstar and pick up girlfriends and come back. … They had gone to Gorham and headed back. Keith had just gotten off the (cell) phone with his girlfriend when it happened. They said they’d come down and get her and she said, ‘Drive safe,'” before hanging up, Chris Cordwell said.

“I don’t hold it against Jonathan or his grandmother,” he added of neighbor Mary Tyler, with whom Jonathan had lived for most of his life.

Loved outdoors

Smith and Tedford had known each other most of their lives; Tyler, they’d known off and on for five years. All three loved the outdoors and fishing. Smith and Tedford also enjoyed hunting, snowmobiling and ATV riding, the Cordwells said. Tyler liked biking and weightlifting, according to his obituary in Thursday’s Bethel Citizen.

Tedford joined the Gilead Fire Department as a junior firefighter in the fall of 2005. In 2006, he did volunteer trail work with the Roxbury ATV Riders. Last September, he dropped out of Telstar, but was working on his GED, his stepdad said, because he wanted to become a mechanic. He also took a job at Dunkin’ Donuts in Bethel to help support his son, Branden F. Tedford, of Gorham, N.H.

Smith’s aunt, Debbie Martin of Bethel, said Wednesday by phone that the tragedy has also been very hard on his extended family.

“He was a talented little woodworker who was very close with his mother, Lisa, and sister (Kaylee). He loved animals, he liked to camp,” Martin said. “His smile and personality would just light up a room, and his uncanny ability to make people laugh, he was just right on. He was gorgeous, handsome.”

“Cody was the type of kid who much preferred being seen on a four-wheeler or hunting or fishing than to be in a classroom,” Telstar High School Principal Ted Davis said on Wednesday. “He was very artistic, a hands-on type of kid.”

Tedford’s aunt Kim Sprague of Woodstock said her nephew was always polite. Tia Sprague, a cousin, said Tedford was charismatic.

Gilead Administrator Beverley Corriveau said Wednesday that the tragedy has affected the Bethel and Gilead communities, and Sunday River Ski Resort, where Jonathan Tyler had started working in December as a lift attendant.

“People here are all very saddened. It’s going to be hard for a lot of us,” she said.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims in this local tragedy,” Sunday River General Manager Dana Bullen said Thursday afternoon via e-mail.

Corriveau has been raising money for the Gilead families to help with funeral expenses and other needs.

Her granddaughter Brianna Glover, 16, of Gilead was Tyler’s girlfriend.

“Thank God my granddaughter wasn’t with them. She’s very sad. All she does, poor girl, is cry,” Corriveau added.

Chris and Sherri Cordwell said they’re coping with the grief with help from teenage friends of all three boys. Many have stayed overnight, coming from homes as far away as Auburn and Harrison.

“If it wasn’t for all of his friends, I wouldn’t have made it,” Sherri Cordwell said.

“They’ve helped us think of the good times,” Chris Cordwell added.

Grief counseling

On Monday, the first day of school vacation, Telstar’s Davis brought in counselors, clergy and staff to help the families and grieving students. About 35 sought help, besides relatives and parents of the boys.

“It was so important that we did it, to get together and console each other and reminisce,” Davis said.

Another session will be held Monday, when students return to school from winter vacation. Davis is bringing in some SAD 43 counselors to help, because Saturday’s tragedy could also rekindle grief over Telstar junior Dorothy “Dee Dee” Palmer, 16, of Andover.

On Nov. 3, Palmer was driving her car on Route 2 behind a Telstar school bus en route to a school conference in Newport when her car was struck in Canaan by an oncoming van. She died of her injuries.

Her death “affected a lot of students, so I don’t know if this will bring back a lot of those memories,” Telstar Principal Davis said.

“It’s been a tough year at Telstar,” SAD 44 Superintendent David Murphy added.

Visiting hours for Keith Frederick Tedford will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. today at the Bethel Alliance Church on Route 26 in Bethel. A funeral service will follow at 6 p.m.

A life celebration for Cody Smith will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Jackson-Silver American Legion Post in Locke Mills. Memorials in his memory may be sent to the Cody Smith Fund, c/o Norway Savings Bank, P.O. Box 916, Bethel, ME 04217.

For Jonathan Tyler, there will be no calling hours. Instead, a graveside memorial service will be held this spring at the Gilead Town Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Franklin Animal Shelter, 71 Punch Brook Road, Franklin, N.H. 03235.

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