By Danny Restivo
and Ed Runyan
The Ohio State Highway Patrol is hoping an investigation will reveal details of what happened before six teenagers were killed in one of the deadliest car accidents in state history.
Lt. Brian Holt, Trumbull County post commander of the highway patrol, said officers were going to complete a thorough investigation to determine the circumstances that led a sport-utility vehicle with eight teenagers to flip into a creek Sunday morning.
Holt spoke alongside Mayor Doug Franklin and Warren schools Superintendent Michael Notar during a press conference Sunday night at the Warren Post of the highway patrol in Southington.
The patrol identified those killed as Andrique Bennett, 14; Kirklan M. Behner, 15; Daylan Ray, 15; Ramone M. White, 15; Brandon A. Murray, 17; and Alexis Cayson, 19, all of Warren. The two injured teens were Brian K. Henry, 18, and Asher C. Lewis, 15. Both were also from Warren.
The OSHP said the two surviving victims suffered only minor injuries and were treated and released from St. Joseph’s Health Center in Warren on Sunday.
According to the OSHP, the Honda SUV was traveling south at a high rate of speed in a 35-mph zone before it veered left, hit a guardrail and went over the guardrail and into a small pond on the east side of the road at approximately 6:50 a.m. Sunday.
The SUV was submerged on its roof in 5 feet of water, the OSHP said. The two injured were able to escape before running nearly a quarter mile to a residence to call 911.
The Warren City Fire Department arrived at the scene shortly after 7 a.m. and removed the five victims from inside the vehicle. Capt. Bill Monrean said it took crews roughly 15 minutes to remove five victims from the water. The sixth victim was ejected during the crash and was found under the roof when the vehicle was removed from the water.
Holt said a coroner’s report would rule whether the teens drowned or died on impact. He said a toxicology report would determine if drugs or alcohol were a factor in the crash.
Police said Cayson was driving the vehicle. The OSHP said the Honda Passport could seat five people safely, and there were signs of seat-belt usage.
Holt said one of the questions officers are trying to answer is where the eight teenagers were coming from, and why were they driving a vehicle that didn’t belong to them.
“A preliminary investigation shows that none of the occupants of the vehicle had expressed permission to be in the possession of the vehicle; however, no reports have been filed at this time,” Holt said.
Holt said the Honda SUV belonged to Marquis A. Stephenson, 33, of Youngstown. Holt said the highway patrol was still investigating the connection between Stephenson and the teens.
Warren City Schools confirmed in a press release that two of those killed were students at the Willard K-8 school, two were students at Warren G. Harding High School and one was a former student in the district.
The accident was just north of Burton Street and across the street from the former RG Steel mill near the Warren-Howland Township line.
The patrol had the road closed until 11:30 a.m.
The Trumbull County Dive Team assisted the highway patrol, and a patrol reconstruction team was called in.
Shoes, a hat and other items could be seen in the water and on the bank just off of the street, apparently some of the items that came from the vehicle.
About 1 p.m., dozens of family members and friends were near the emergency room exit at St. Joseph Health Center, where the two survivors were being treated.
One young woman, the sister of one of the dead, cried as she spoke into her cellphone.
“I want him home. I’m lost. I don’t know what to do,” she said. She and others said they didn’t know where the group was headed or where they had been.
“Only the two who survived know that,” another man said of the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.
Notar said he was notified of the accident shortly before 9 a.m. Sunday. After confirming the identities of the victims, Notar said the school district sent out automatic calls to staffers and families of students informing them of the deaths. On Sunday night, faculty, parents, community members and students gathered at the Willard K-8 building to grieve and offer condolences.
Laura R. Mason is the great-great-aunt of Cayson. Although she had a heavy heart, she thought the gesture of 200 people coming together was a sign of a strong and supportive community.
“We all have to remember that God has a special place for us,” said Mason.
Julie Fabrizi, 13, said she knew all the victims well, but it made it even harder to watch her friends grieve for someone they would no longer see.
“I don’t know how to feel right now, but I hate seeing my friends cry,” she said. “It’s just hard on everyone right now.”
Aaron Schwab, communications coordinator at Warren City Schools, said there will be licensed counselors at Warren G. Harding and the Willard K-8 building this morning to provide support for grieving staff and students. Schwab said there will be a press conference at 10 a.m. today at the district’s administration building to answer questions and provide an update.
“It’s going to be a rough week and a rough rest of the school year,” said Notar.