By Ed Runyan
Alexis Cayson, driver of the sport utility vehicle that overturned in a pond March 10, killing her and five other teens, had neither alcohol nor drugs in her system, nor did three of the other teens.
Results so far don’t indicate whether the other four in the vehicle had drugs in their systems, but they, too, had no alcohol in their systems, Lt. Brian Holt of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said Thursday at a news conference.
Holt said the patrol has thoroughly investigated the circumstances surrounding the accident and concluded that Cayson was driving 62 to 70 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone when she crashed.
The car overturned in a pond on Niles Warren River Road at 6:56 a.m., about a mile south of downtown Warren. Two of the teens escaped and went for help, but the six who remained behind drowned.
“The evidence retrieved shows there was no interference with the driver which would have caused her to lose control,” Holt said.
The eight in the car at the time of the crash had been together about an hour, but Cayson “had been driving around with some of these occupants and others off and on throughout the night,” Holt said.
“Some were in the car. They would stop. They would stay. They would leave. This was a night of — for lack of better terms, I would say there was some joyriding going on, socializing, just kind of driving around the city of Warren. That was pretty much the extent of it.”
Cayson’s “joyriding” in a car that belonged to her roommate’s brother began at 11:30 p.m. March 9 and involved stops to at least three locations — Francis Avenue Southeast, Tod Avenue and Colonial Street Southeast.
Holt said the driving appears to have stopped about 4 a.m. during a “quiet time,” and then picked up again at 6 a.m., when Cayson apparently started taking everyone home.
Warren Mayor Doug Franklin also attended the news conference at the patrol’s Southington Post, saying families of the victims learned the same details Thursday morning, and they were relieved to learn there was no alcohol detected.
“It was pretty emotional. I would sense that there was a degree of relief when the drug and alcohol results were reported. There was a lot of hugging and a lot of crying,” he said.
The two survivors, Brian K. Henry, 18, and Asher Lewis, 15, said Cayson, 19, picked them up at a house on Maple Street Southwest, then went to a gas station before heading south on Pine Street on their way home. Niles Warren River Road is the name of the southern extension of Pine Street.
Among the locations where the car went earlier in the night was a “bootleg,” a type of after-hours party, usually for adults, where people can get alcohol, Holt said.
Two of the occupants of the vehicle were at the bootleg “all night,” Holt said, declining to identify them.
But some of the boys in the car had only gone to another house for a “sleepover,” Holt said.
The four whose drug tests are not yet complete are Kirklan Behner, 15; Henry, Lewis and Daylan Ray, 15. There were no drugs or alcohol in the systems of Cayson; Andrique Bennett, 14; Brandon Murray, 14; and Ramone White, 15.
Trooper Seth Howard, who investigated the accident and the whereabouts of the teens before the crash, said there could be further investigation by the Ohio Division of Liquor Control into the location where the bootleg took place.
As for the information provided by Henry and Lewis about the crash and the events leading up to it, Howard said he found the information they provided “right on” and “pretty accurate.”
When asked, Holt reiterated Thursday that the 911 call about the accident was puzzling in that it took Henry and Lewis several minutes to reveal to the woman who made the call and the dispatcher that there were others still in the car.
“I don’t know why they didn’t tell anybody.” Holt said. “Our 911 operators are all good, all over the county. They [Henry and Lewis] could have been in shock, but we’d like to think they would have said there are other people in the water.”
It took a second call back to the house on Burton Street Southeast where Henry and Lewis went for help before the Warren 911 operator realized that Henry and Lewis had been involved in an accident that might involve others.
The recording indicates that about six minutes passed between the first 911 call and the time when firefighters were dispatched to look for other victims.
Holt said the investigation is nearly complete with only minor issues left and he “can’t say there would never be any criminal charges. That would be something for the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s office to decide.”
As for lessons to be learned from the accident, he said: “We are all probably guilty of a sense of invincibility. We just need to convey to our young people, especially with a scenario like this, that they are not invincible.
“Better decisions need to be made. Do we know who we are with? Do the family members — are they fully aware of the whereabouts of the children? This was just a bad situation. Poor decisions were made, and of course, the ultimate sacrifice was made because of it.”