Shock, horror, disbelief and grief continue to tear at the heart of the city of Warren and the Mahoning Valley as funeral plans unfold for the six teenagers killed in the deadliest traffic accident in Trumbull County history Sunday morning.
We, too, remain horrified by the senseless tragedy and mourn the numbing loss of six young lives — Alexis Cayson, 19; Andrique Bennett, 14; Kirklan M. Behner, 15; Daylan Ray, 15; Brandon A. Murray, 17; and Ramone M. White, 15 — all of Warren. By most accounts of the scores of family, friends and loved ones of the victims, the teens were fun-loving, caring, hard-working young people who made lasting impressions on those around them in their southeast Warren neighborhood, at Warren G. Harding High School and at the Willard K-8 School in the city.
In the short term, we encourage the community to rally around surviving family members at this unfortunate time by offering their condolences, their help and their strength. Too, those who knew the victims or who have been moved by the tragedy can help ease the financial strains on the families by contributing to the Our Gifts to Children funeral and memorial fund set up at Huntington Bank on West Market Street in downtown Warren.
FOCUS ON SAFETY, PREVENTION
In the long term, the tragedy — one of the deadliest single-vehicle accidents in Ohio history — calls for all in Warren and the Valley to take proactive measures to help prevent such a calamity from happening again. Toward that end, public safety officials, families and individuals must first take stock of the lessons that may be learned from Sunday’s 7 a.m. disaster when the sport-utility vehicle driven by Alexis veered off the left side of Pine Avenue Southeast near Burton Street Southeast, hit a guardrail, overturned and landed in a nearby swamp, plunging six young lives to their deaths.
First, public-safety officials would be wise to update studies of the thoroughfare on which the accident occurred. The roadway that begins as Warren Avenue in Niles serves as a convenient and quick shortcut for thousands between downtown Niles and downtown Warren. But with its changing speed limits through its urban and rural stretches, its many twists and turns as it meanders alongside the Mahoning River and its minimal lighting, it has been the scene of many major and minor traffic accidents over the years. Officials might start with a suggestion from Warren Councilwoman Helen Rucker, a member of Council’s Traffic and Safety Committee, to install high-visibility caution signs as the roadway’s speed limit drops as it enters the city limits via a dangerous curve.
Sunday’s accident also reinforces the ongoing need for all drivers to practice and all loved ones of drivers to preach the fundamentals of roadway safety. Troopers say speed played at least one critical factor in the accident.
“Speed kills” is not some hackneyed clich or scare tactic to be disdained or ignored; it is a fact. In 2011, 30 percent of all fatal crashes in Ohio were caused by speed-related factors, killing 479 people and injuring 72,536 more, the state highway patrol reports. That’s 74 more fatalities than the death toll for Americans in the war in Afghanistan that year.
The accident also reinforces a renewed focus on seat-belt usage (evidence indicates some but not all of the victims were buckled up), vehicle load limits (eight people were crammed into the SUV designed to hold five) and the potential impact of distracted driving when traveling even short distances within one’s own neighborhood.
Finally, the emotion-filled tragedy should elicit another lesson: In its aftermath, the need for community compassion should outweigh any immediate inclination to play blame games. Toward those ends, Warren Mayor Doug Franklin and Warren Schools Superintendent Michael Notar deserve praise for their untiring efforts to soothe affected families and to rally the community toward recovery.
In the somber aftermath of the horrors of this tragedy, it is sad on a personal level that six potentially productive lives were so prematurely snuffed out. On a community level, it is anguishing that the city of Warren must deal yet again with the anguish of another emotionally draining crisis causing mass loss of life.
In 2011, four children and two adults were killed in a house fire on Lansdowne Boulevard Northwest, and one year ago last week two children and two adults were killed in another house fire on Austin Avenue Northwest. In those tragedies, community members comforted surviving family members and friends of the victims reached into their pockets to help defray expenses of funerals and other costs and charted the city toward a path of recovery.
It is now incumbent upon the Greater Warren community to muster up the same resilience and strength to recover from and to learn from Sunday’s grievous heart-rending tragedy.