Daily Reporter staff reports
NEW PALESTINE — They called her their shining star.
Carla McCloud was driven and talented — a college grad on her way to obtaining her master’s degree, the kind of woman who was quick to compliment others and always ready to help.
Her friends and family say she cast a bright light into the lives of everyone she knew — a light snuffed out too soon.
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McCloud, 22, of New Palestine, died Wednesday after being struck by a car while riding her bicycle late Tuesday in rural New Palestine.
She was riding bikes with her cousin, Amanda Wheeler, in the 4300 block of West County Road 300S when they were struck by a teenage driver who police say was drunk.
The 17-year-old boy, whose name has not been released, had a blood alcohol content of 0.28 percent at the time of the accident and faces criminal charges in juvenile court, police said.
McCloud was flown by medical helicopter to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where she was placed on life support. She died Wednesday afternoon. Wheeler also was taken to Methodist with injuries and remained there in stable condition at press time.
Wheeler said McCloud was her best friend, and the pair would often ride their bikes together near McCloud’s New Palestine home — as they were on the night McCloud died.
They were just a mile from home — one turn left to make — when the car approached them from behind. Wheeler will never forget the last words she spoke to McCloud on Tuesday, moments before the accident. It was a comment made with a chuckle, Wheeler said: “You’re so great.”
“And that’s so true,” Wheeler said in a statement to the Daily Reporter. “She was an amazing woman that I hope to live my life for. … I hope I can achieve my goals and dreams just like I knew she would have done.”
McCloud was a 2011 graduate of New Palestine High School. She went on to the University of Indianapolis, where she was studying to be an occupational therapist. She recently received a bachelor’s degree and had started working toward a master’s degree, friends said.
McCloud loved to sing and was a member of the Diamond Sensations show choir when she was a student at New Palestine. Steve Beebe, the high school’s choir director, remembers McCloud as a positive, humorous and hardworking student.
“The most frustrating thing is the fact she had her whole future ahead of her,” Beebe said. “To try and make sense out of this — you’re 22, you just graduated, you’re starting your career with everything going for you, and to have it all disappear — is devastating.”
Jessica Griffin had been McCloud’s friend since preschool. On Wednesday, the fellow New Palestine High School graduate tried to focus on the good times, the things that made McCloud special.
Her laughter — the kind that burst from a person and made everyone else in the room start to giggle; she won’t forget that.
“Everyone knew when she walked into a room because you could hear her laugh from a mile away,” she said.
Everything about McCloud was larger than life — her laugh, her smile, her personality — “except she was tiny,” Griffin said with a laugh. “She was a really tiny girl.”
It was McCloud’s smile and laugh that attracted Ross Gallagher, her boyfriend of two years.
Gallagher met McCloud when they were teenagers, and they knew each other for more than six years when their friendship turned to love.
They often bickered good-naturedly about rival sports teams: He loved the New England Patriots; she hated them. She was fit but had a weakness for ice cream and chocolate — “mass amounts of chocolate,” her mother, Cindy McCloud, joked.
They didn’t have to make plans, Gallagher said. Just being together was enough.
“We could talk about how green the grass was for hours, and the conversations would never get dull,” he said.
McCloud’s loved ones gathered to say their goodbyes before McCloud was taken off life support Wednesday, said Orlyn Moglers, Carla’s stepgrandfather.
McCloud was an organ donor, proof that she was always thinking of others, he said.
She was a star, they said, and the stars seem to be shining a little brighter in the sky with McCloud among them.
“I saw people talking last night on Facebook about how the stars were shining so much brighter,” Griffin said. “They were. I really think Carla was up there, letting us know she made it OK.”