Former Miss New Jersey Cara McCollum, a South Jersey news anchor who started her own charity, succumbed Monday morning to injuries suffered in a car crash last week.
She was 24.
In a post to the Prayers for Cara Facebook page early Monday, the Arkansas native's family thanked people for the "tremendous outpouring of love and support for our Cara." [[369641291, C]]
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"Cara passed away this morning," read the post. "Her family was with her in the operating room, and she died peacefully at 4:31 a.m. Before she died, Cara made the selfless decision to donate her organs. At this very moment, she is saving lives.
"We’ve prayed constantly for a miracle, and we believe God has answered our prayers. Although it’s not the miracle that we first envisioned, it’s a miracle nonetheless.
"In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. Please accept our sincerest thanks for your heartfelt prayers. We all will miss her now that she’s gone."
McCollum's boyfriend of nearly two years, Keith Jones, is an anchor at NBC10. He thanked everyone for "this tremendous outpouring of love and support for my sweet, beautiful everything, Cara," in a Facebook post Monday morning. [[369659101, C]]
"Sadly, Cara passed away this morning," wrote Keith. "We were with her in the operating room, and she died peacefully at 4:31am. Before she died, Cara made the selfless decision to donate her organs. At this very moment, she is saving lives."
McCollum, who was an anchor for SNJ Today after attending Princeton University, was traveling north on Route 55 in Pittsgrove Township, Salem County just before 7 p.m. on Feb. 15 when police say her car spun off the road and struck a tree head-on near milemarker 38.4.
Her car spun and struck two more trees before stopping at the bottom of an embankment, according to police. McCollum was the only person in the car at the time. Authorities said that it appeared that wet roads may have played a role.
McCollum, who was crowned Miss New Jersey in 2013, was taken to a South Jersey hospital in critical condition.
The Miss America Organization was "deeply saddened to learn of Cara's passing," said organization COO Josh Randle. "She was an extraordinary young woman, and we extend our deepest condolences and continued prayers to her family and friends."
McCollum was known for her volunteer work, and started her own organization, the Birthday Book Project, as a high-school student in Arkansas in 2008. The project gives books to children and has donated more than 25,000 in Arkansas and New Jersey since its creation, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Sally Johnston, executive director of the Miss New Jersey Pageant, told the Inquirer last week that McCollum was "an angel."
"She's just quite an extraordinary young girl," Johnston told the newspaper.
"She looks for the bright side in everything ... and that giving, loving spirit is what makes her such a joy to be around," Johnston said.
McCollum joined Millville-based SNJ Today to anchor its first-ever news broadcasts in July. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English with a certificate in journalism from Princeton University in 2015, and was valedictorian of the class of 2010 at Forrest City High School in Forrest City, Arkansas.
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