WARREN, Ohio (AP) — A speeding sport utility vehicle taken without permission and carrying eight teenagers crashed into a guardrail Sunday morning and flipped over into a swampy pond in northeast Ohio, killing five boys and the young woman driving, the state highway patrol said.
The Honda Passport veered off the left side of a road and overturned just south of the city of Warren, about 60 miles east of Cleveland, Lt. Anne Ralston said. Investigators say it came to rest upside down in the swamp and sank with five of the victims trapped inside. A sixth, who was thrown from the SUV during the crash, was found under it when the vehicle was taken out of the water.
The two boys who survived escaped from the submerged vehicle and ran a quarter-mile to a home to call 911, the highway patrol said.
State Highway Patrol Lt. Brian Holt said at an evening news conference that speed was a factor, although investigators were still trying to determine the speed at the time of the accident.
“We will not be speculating on alcohol and-or drug usage pending toxicology reports,” Holt said.
No one in the vehicle had permission to take it, but there were no theft reports, Holt said. The vehicle was licensed to a resident of Youngstown, about 20 miles away, he said.
After the news conference, the gates of an impound lot were opened to show the wreck, with windows smashed and extensive damage to the front end, hood and roof.
Ralston didn’t know where the teens were headed when the crash happened at about 7 a.m. and Holt said later it wasn’t clear how long they had been out.
“All I know is my baby is gone,” said Derrick Ray, who came to the crash site after viewing his 15-year-old son Daylan’s body at the county morgue. He said he knew that his son, a talented football player who was looking forward to playing in high school, was out with friends, but didn’t know their plans.
A pile of blue, green and copper-red stuffed bears grew at a makeshift memorial at the crash site along a two-lane road tightly bordered with guardrails on either side in an industrial area. The sport utility vehicle had sheared off tall cattails along the guardrail.
There were also notes at the memorial, including a letter from Daylan Ray’s 12-year-old half-sister, Mariah Bryant, who said she had learned they were related only in the past year.
“It hurts, it really does, because they are so young and, like, they could have had so much more to life,” she said. “We just really started getting close, and it’s hard to believe he’s gone.”
Warren Fire Department Capt. Bill Monrean said a cold water rescue team was deployed to the scene and got five teens out of the submerged vehicle.
“Being a cold water rescue situation, cold water extends life,” Monrean told AP Radio. “We knew we had a chance; even being in there a while.”
Two of the teens, both 15, were brought to a hospital in full cardiac arrest, St. Joseph Health Center nursing supervisor Julie Gill said, and were pronounced dead there. She said they were treated for hypothermic drowning trauma, indicating they had been submerged in cold water.
The two who survived, 18-year-old Brian Henry and 15-year-old Asher Lewis, both of Warren, were treated for bruising and other injuries and released, she said.
All those killed were ages 14 to 19, authorities said. State police identified them as the 19-year-old driver Alexis Cayson; Andrique Bennett, 14; Brandon Murray, 17; and Kirklan Behner, Ramone White and Ray, all 15. The Highway Patrol said Cayson was the only female in the vehicle.
Rickie Bowling, 18, a friend of Behner, sobbed at the crash scene as she recalled his playfulness and reputation as a cut-up.
“He was one of a kind,” she said. “Everyone knew him in the neighborhood. In school, he always made everyone laugh.”
Bowling said the tragedy highlighted the importance of savoring life. “Basically, enjoy every second in life,” she said. “Enjoy life while you’ve got it and while you’re here and enjoy people that you love.”
She said she would rely on her faith in the difficult days ahead. “The only way to look at it is on the bright side: he’s in a better place,” she said.
Jasmine McClintock, 22, a friend of a victim, visited the crash scene and said it should serve as a warning for parents to be aware of their children’s activities.
“I hope it’s an eye-opener for parents,” she said while watching the slow ripple of the pond water littered with debris, some apparently from the crash.
McClintock said she was troubled by the question of what the victims were doing out at that hour, not knowing if they had been out all night or left home early.
“That’s the part that boggles my mind. It’s like on a Sunday if you’re not going to church, what are you doing at 7 a.m. out driving,” she asked.
Officials opened a school where several of the victims attended to provide counseling for families Sunday night. Superintendent Michael Notar called the crowded closed-door session heartbreaking and said counselors would be available Monday in schools.
Cheryl Moore, 54, whose nephew is a classmate of some of the victims, emerged from the counseling session and said it was helpful. “I just feel we have to come to grips with what happened today,” she said.
All eight were from Warren. It’s not believed that any of them were closely related, the highway patrol said.
Near the Pennsylvania state line, Warren is a mostly blue-collar city that was hit by the decline of U.S. steel mills; it has more than 41,000 residents in the industrial Mahoning Valley region.