By Ed Runyan
Ohio State Highway Patrol investigators have a “much clearer picture now” than they had a week ago into the facts that led up to a crash that killed six teenagers on Niles Warren River Road.
They are not, however, ready to share that picture with the public.
Lt. Brian Holt, commander of the patrol’s Southington Post, said he cannot yet discuss where the three 15-year-olds, two 14-year-olds and one 19-year-old had been before the 6:56 a.m. March 10 crash. The patrol has been investigating the whereabouts of the teens beforehand.
Holt said he expects to learn results this week of toxicology tests on the blood of the driver, Alexis Cayson, 19, and an investigator continues to work daily on the case.
The patrol also has questions about the time it took for the two injured survivors to alert authorities to the likelihood that six other teens were still trapped inside the overturned sport utility vehicle.
“The first responders struggled with prompt information on how many occupants were in the vehicle,” Holt said.
The six, who drowned, were Cayson; Andrique Bennett, 14; Kirklan Behner, 15; Brandon Murray, 14; Ramone White, 15; and Daylan Ray, 15.
The 911 recording and other Warren Police Department data indicates the response time to the pond into which the SUV flipped was delayed at least six minutes by a lack of clear information to first responders, possibly due to the injuries suffered by the two survivors.
Brian K. Henry, 18, and Asher C. Lewis, 15, escaped from the SUV after Henry broke out the rear window.
A witness statement to the patrol from Lewis states he and Henry hung on to the car “yelling names [of the other victims] for like less than 20 seconds” after they got out.
In a Vindicator interview with Henry, he didn’t mention hanging onto the car. “All I saw was my friend coming behind me, Asher Lewis. I get up on land. I go up over the [guardrail] and try to stop two cars, but they just ride right past me, so I ran to the nearest house I could go to to get help.”
In Henry’s and Lewis’ statements to police, they didn’t mention trying to flag down cars, though in a telephone interview with Lewis, a Howland High School freshman, he said he does remember that happening.
Another young man who was present when the 911 call was made from a Burton Street Southeast home said Henry was in bad shape when he arrived, and he thinks that’s why the information about the six other people in the car wasn’t provided more quickly.
Lewis told The Vindicator he didn’t make it to the house on Burton Street as fast as Henry, so he doesn’t know what Henry said, and he didn’t hear the 911 calls.
Holt said investigators know the accident happened at 6:56 a.m., but he isn’t prepared to say how they know that.
At 7:07 a.m., Jacquelyn Kimble of Burton Street Southeast, about four-tenths of a mile from the accident, called 911 to report that Henry and Lewis were in her house, bloody and muddy, and asked 911 to send an ambulance to her house.
Kimble told the dispatcher the two had been “in an accident around Pine Street and they just came over here.” Kimble later clarifies that it was a car crash. Niles Warren River Road is an extension of Pine.
There was no discussion by either Kimble or the dispatcher regarding other victims.
At 7:10 a.m., a worker at the Stericycle factory next to the pond called 911 to say: “I just heard a crash, and I walked down here and there’s a vehicle in a pond upside down.” Later he said, “You can see two sets of footprints, but I don’t know if there’s anybody else in [the car] or not.”
The dispatcher called Kimble back and asked, “Your friends, were they involved in a car accident?” Kimble responded, “I think so.”
The dispatcher asked, “Did their car flip over in the water?” And Kimble answered, “I think so.”
The dispatcher asked, “Is anybody in that car, or are they at your house?”
Kimble said, “Two of them are at my house. I think there’s somebody else in there, but I’m not sure.”
“Can you ask them?” the dispatcher said of Henry and Lewis.
Kimble apparently asked the two survivors the question and told the dispatcher: “He said there were four people in the car. Just two of them are here.”
“Where are the two other ones? Ask him,” the dispatcher said.
“He says he thinks they’re still in the car,” Kimble said.
“OK. That’s what I needed to know,” the dispatcher said.
The dispatcher then called Sgt. Joe O’Grady of the Warren Police Department and notified him of the situation, and O’Grady arrived at the accident scene at 7:16 a.m.
The dispatcher notified Warren Fire Department at 7:13 a.m. that there might be survivors trapped in a car in the pond, and the fire department responded with firefighters in wet suits. They entered the water immediately and removed the six victims, but none survived.
Jeremy Kimble, who was at Jacqueline Kimble’s house, told the patrol Henry “was covered with blood, and he told me and my family to call 911, and he said everyone that was in the car had died.”
Jacqueline Kimble and Jeremy Kimble could not be reached by The Vindicator to comment further.
A young man at the house when the 911 call was made would not identify himself to The Vindicator on Tuesday. Henry was injured when he arrived, he recalled. He said that might be why he didn’t provide more accurate information to Jacqueline Kimble and the 911 operator.
“Brian was trying to get his mind clear to tell us,” he said. “He had a big knot on his head. He basically had to regain and realize what was going on,” the man said.
“He said, ‘They’re all dead,’ and I said, ‘Who?’ And he said the girl’s name and Butter [Andrique Bennett],” the young man said.
Henry told the patrol he was at a house on Maple Street Southwest when Bennett called him and they made arrangements for Cayson to give him and Lewis a ride home. Lewis told The Vindicator the house on Maple is Henry’s girlfriend’s house.
Lewis told the patrol Henry woke him up, and they went outside to catch a ride in the SUV. The eight of them went to the gas station, and Henry put gas into the SUV before they headed south on Pine/Niles Warren River Road.
Henry said the accident happened because Cayson was driving fast and hit the guardrail.
Lewis told The Vindicator he lost consciousness “about 50 seconds before the crash,” so he doesn’t remember the car flipping into the water. He said Cayson’s erratic driving before the crash knocked him out, and the water in the car woke him up.
Lewis knew several of the boys in the car because he moved from Warren not long ago.
Holt said the accident is being treated the same as any death investigation.
“We treat every investigation as a criminal investigation because we don’t know where the liabilities lie,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there will be any criminal charges filed at any time.”