The Highway Patrol said 17-year-old Patrick McLaughlin Jr. veered off the highway to the left, hit a guardrail, then crossed back over to the right side of the road and hit a tree.
At the high school Monday, the dreary weather outside matched the mood indoors.
"It was a little bit muted this morning," explained Principal Jamee Lynch.
In a class of about 60 seniors, McLaughlin was one of the most popular. He served on the yearbook staff, and was at every event. He was a step away from becoming an eagle scout, and he was the friend everyone turned to for a favor.
"He'd cheer people up when they were down. He was just one of those kind caring kids that was a real presence on the campus," said Lynch.
Troopers said they are not sure what caused McLaughlin to veer off the road. They say they've ruled out speed, alcohol, a medical condition, and even an animal crossing the road as the possible cause of the crash.
McLaughlin was wearing his seatbelt.
As school let out Monday, Eyewitness News cameras captured several young drivers who were not buckled up behind the wheel.
That's a problem amongst many young drivers say officials.
Last week, four teens in Nash County were seriously injured in a crash that threw two from a speeding car as it rolled and crashed into a home.
In Durham Monday, family and friends remembered 16-year-old Destinee Taylor. She and two others were thrown from another car crash last week.
Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among teens 15-19 years old.