By Ed Runyan
One of the surviving occupants of the vehicle that overturned in a pond along Niles-Warren River Road on Sunday morning, killing six teens, said it felt like the 19-year-old driver was going 80 miles per hour just before the wreck.
Asher C. Lewis, 15, of Howland, told an investigator he and Brian K. Henry, 18, got a ride in a sport utility vehicle at a house on Maple Street Southwest.
Alexis S. Cayson, 19, and five boys age 14 and 15, three of whom Lewis knew, were already inside.
Just before the car wrecked into a guardrail and flipped into the pond about a mile south of downtown Warren, Cayson seemed to be “playing around,” Lewis said.
“She was swerving and speeding. I think she was driving on purpose like that, but I’m not sure why,” he said. “It felt like she was driving like 80 [mph].”
Cayson, of 7th Street Southwest, had taken the car without the permission of its owner, and she was driving without a license, authorities say.
Henry and Lewis were the only occupants to survive. They both said they blacked out from the impact but woke up and escaped through a window that Henry broke out with his elbow.
“Brian went out first, and then I went out and I tried to grab Andrique [Bennett] but couldn’t because the water was pushing in,” Lewis said in a written statement to police.
As Henry and Lewis made it out of the car, they hung on a little while “yelling names for like less than 20 seconds” to the other people in the car.
They walked and ran to a house a quarter-mile away on Burton Street Southeast, where Jeremy Kimble described Henry as “covered with blood, and he told me and my family to call 911. He said that everyone that was in the car had died.” Kimble said Lewis was covered in mud.
Neither Lewis nor Henry knew where the five boys already in the car had been before they showed up on Maple Street, though Henry told The Vindicator during an interview the boys said they had been at a party.
Bennett, 14, had called Henry to offer him a ride from Maple Street, Henry said.
Autopsies performed Monday and Tuesday showed that all six of the victims died from drowning, Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, Trumbull County coroner, said.
Toxicology testing was done on all six bodies, Dr. Germaniuk said. In about eight weeks, the testing will indicate whether there was alcohol or drugs in their bodies.
Marquis Stephenson of Youngstown, owner of the SUV Cayson was driving, told investigators he was staying at his sister’s apartment on North Feederlee Drive Southeast on Saturday night. He said Cayson took his car about 4 a.m. without permission. He realized it was gone about 8:30 a.m., he said.
A candlelight vigil for the accident victims is planned for 7 p.m. Saturday in Courthouse Square.
Lt. Anne Ralston, spokeswoman for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said investigators continue to investigate to determine where the five boys were before they showed up on Maple Street.
It’s unusual to backtrack that much, but because of the youth of the victims and the scope of the tragedy, the highway patrol will continue to seek answers.
“People have questions,” she said. “We’re not only to report the traffic accident but to investigate it thoroughly,” she said.
Family members of the five dead boys have expressed varying opinions on where the boys had been.
Andre Bennett Sr., father of Andrique Bennett, said he believes the boys were “at the movies, they stayed at a friend’s. They put their trust in someone else’s hands.”
Lisa Williamson, mother of 14-year-old victim Brandon Murray, told The Vindicator’s broadcast partner, 21 WFMJ-TV, that she thinks the boys had been at a party.
Murray had gone to spend the night at the house of Ramone White, 15, who also died. But she warned her son he wasn’t allowed to go anywhere else.
“They were sneaking to a party, like we have done so many times, and from what I understand, they were trying to get back home before any of the parents woke up.”
The other boys who died are Kirklan M. Behner, 15, and Daylan Ray, 15.