A former Miss New Jersey who competed in the 2014 Miss America pageant was not wearing her seat belt when she was critically injured after her convertible spun off a rain-soaked highway and hit a tree, state police said Tuesday.
Cara McCollum was northbound on Route 55 in Pittsgrove Township just before 7pm on Monday when her 2014 Ford Mustang veered off the road and struck a tree, then spun again and hit two more trees before ending up in a ditch, police said.
The 24-year-old from Margate was alone in her vehicle. She remained hospitalized at Cooper Regional Medical Center Tuesday suffering from critical head injuries.
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Beauty queen hurt: Cara McCollum, pictured left after being crowned Miss New Jersey in 2013 and right during the 2014 Miss America competition, was critically injured when her convertible spun off a highway and hit a tree in New Jersey
State police investigators say McCollum, seen in this 2013 file photo during the Miss America Shoe Parade at the Atlantic City, appeared to have been driving too fast on a wet roadway when her car slammed into a tree
Jersey girl: McCollum, pictured here during the 2014 Miss America Contestants’ Photo Call, is an Arkansas native who attended Princeton University in New Jersey
The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
State police say McCollum appeared to have been driving too fast for conditions on the wet roadway. They do not believe alcohol or drugs played a role in the wreck. The car’s air bags deployed.
McCollum is now an anchor on SNJ Today, a TV news startup based out of Millville serving the southern Jersey area.
The show issued a statement Tuesday, saying, ‘Cara is a beloved member of our SNJ Today family. She and her family are in our thoughts and prayers.’
McCollum’s friend, art gallery owner David Holtzman, said she underwent brain surgery Tuesday afternoon.
Multi-talented: For the talent portion of the Miss New Jersey pageant she performed Liberace’s rendition of ‘Malaguena’
Lady in red: McCollum had filed her final report from the field before the accident on Friday, shooting a segment about a local flower shop’s preparations for Valentine’s Day (pictured)
‘I’m sick to my stomach,’ he told Shore News Today. ‘She is an unbelievable lady, living her dream of being in the newsroom. It’s just mind-boggling that this could happen to her.’
During her most recent broadcast Monday, McCollum talked about poor road conditions on air.
In her latest Instagram post dated Sunday, McCollum posed in a pair of oversize heart-shaped novelty glasses, writing: ‘Hope everyone had a #happyvalentinesday.’
Just a week earlier, McCollum and her boyfriend, Emmy Award-winning NBC 10 Philadelphia news anchor Keith Jones, celebrated her 24th birthday.
The striking blonde was valedictorian of Forrest City High School in Arkansas before enrolling in Princeton, where she majored in English and journalism.
In an interview with The Star Ledger in 2013, McCollum said she got accepted into Harvard University but opted to go to the New Jersey-based Ivy League school because she was a ‘Jersey girl through and through.’
Stunning couple: McCollum is dating NBC 10 Philadelphia news anchor Keith Jones (pictured together in Disney World)
Birthday girl: Just a week earlier, McCollum and her boyfriend celebrated her 24th birthday
Clinging to life: According to a friend, the 24-year-old news anchor, pictured here on a trip to Washington DC last year, underwent brain surgery Tuesday
She took a year off from college to compete in Miss America and carry out her duties as Miss New Jersey in 2013, visiting schools to encourage children and launching a literacy program.
Besides her work as a broadcast journalist and literacy advocate, McCollum is also a gifted musician.
For the talent portion of the Miss New Jersey pageant she performed Liberace’s rendition of ‘Malaguena.’
She had never participated in pageants before getting to Princeton.
She was a member of Kappa Alpha sorority while at Princeton and in charge of tailgates for football games. She said in one interview she was known around campus for her girly clothes, insistence on wearing heels to class and the pink bicycle she rode.