Death toll rises to 4 in Ohio pre-graduation crash

Jun 5, 2012, 4:36 AM

BRUNSWICK, Ohio (AP) – The death toll from a weekend car crash has risen to four students after an 18-year-old senior died Monday of injuries he suffered. A fifth student also was injured.

The MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland released a statement from Kevin Fox’s family Monday morning saying he had died. No other information was released.

“We are grateful for the overwhelming support that the northeast Ohio community has given our family during this difficult time,” the Fox family’s statement said.

The three other students died of multiple trauma with head and neck injuries, according to the Lorain County coroner, Dr. Stephen Evans. Evans said Monday that there was no evidence of drug or alcohol use.

A Columbia Township firefighter who called early Sunday with first word of the accident provided a quick assessment of how serious it was. “I need Life Flight (medical evacuation helicopter). I have one ejected, one entrapped. Like I said, this is a rollover,” he told the dispatcher.

Investigators returned to the scene Monday and blocked off the sloping railroad crossing for an accident reconstruction to determine how the wreck happened. A steady stream of young people arrived at the scene, many leaving flowers, balloons and mementoes on the roadside.

A car carrying Fox and four other teenagers went airborne, crashed and flipped onto its roof at a railroad crossing early Sunday. Fox was ejected from the car’s backseat and landed in a ditch. He was flown to the hospital.

Fox and 18-year-old driver Jeffrey Chaya were to graduate from Brunswick High School on Sunday afternoon. Chaya also died.

Also killed were Blake Bartchak, 17, and Lexi Poerner, 16. A 17-year-old girl, Julia Romito, was injured, but Southwest General Hospital wouldn’t release information on her condition.

All five were students at Brunswick High School. In a tearful commencement ceremony Sunday afternoon at the University of Akron, Chaya’s and Fox’s names were called, a moment of silence was held and empty seats covered with flowers were left for them.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol said the 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier was traveling fast just after midnight when it hit the railroad tracks in Columbia Township. Chaya lost control as the car went off the right side, swerved back off the left side of the road, hit a ditch and tree, and flipped over onto the road, the patrol said.

Judy Arena, 46, who lives near the railroad crossing, said accidents by cars going too fast over the tracks are a common occurrence.

“I heard a horrendous crash, and I’m thinking, `Here we go again’,” she said.

She has seen young people park and watch their buddies speed over the tracks. “It’s as if they would have contests to see who would get the most air,” she said.

Even at 45 mph, the cars would go airborne, Arena said. “You will get airborne, even a conscientious driver,” she said.

Troopers so far blame excessive speed. Patrol Lt. Travis Hughes said he knows of no other fatal crashes at the crossing in recent years.

At the suggestion of the school district, many students wore the school color, blue, to display a sense of unity on Monday.

Outside the school, three stuffed animals were placed near an electronic message board that congratulated graduates and expressed prayerful support for the victims’ families.

Students were given the option of skipping their final exams Monday and Tuesday and instead have their third and fourth quarter grades averaged.

The district sent grief counselors to meet with students, teachers and staff members.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Death toll rises to 4 in Ohio pre-graduation crash