WARREN, Ohio (AP) — The 19-year-old woman behind the wheel of an allegedly stolen SUV when it smacked a guardrail and flipped into a pond, killing six friends, didn’t have a valid driver’s license, according to a report on the crash released Tuesday.
Two teens who survived the crash told police the woman was speeding and driving recklessly before Sunday’s accident.
The State Highway Patrol report said one of the teens told investigators the driver, Alexis Cayson, sped up as she rounded what’s known as “Dead Man’s Curve.” The other teen told a state trooper it felt like the SUV was going 80 mph.
Cayson was among those killed along with five boys.
Brian Henry, 18, said he told the woman to slow down before the five-passenger Honda Passport, crammed with eight teenagers, sped down a 35-mph road and into the water early Sunday.
“I blanked out for a little bit and then the truck was upside-down in the water,” he told a trooper. “There was air in the truck but it was filling with water. I used my right elbow to break out the back window.”
Henry wriggled out of the submerged vehicle with 15-year-old Asher Lewis. The pair, who suffered only minor injuries, ran to a home to call 911.
In a call to 911 released Tuesday, Jacquelyn Kimble said that the two survivors were “beat up pretty bad.”
“Can you send an ambulance?” she asks. “Two of my friends got into an accident around Pine Street and they just came over here. They are messed up pretty bad. Can you please send somebody quick?”
Asked if it was a car accident, she replied yes.
“One’s head’s bleeding, they beat up pretty bad,” she said, then stops to tell someone near her, “Just sit right there, just sit right there.”
Her husband, Jeremy Kimble, told police that Henry was “covered with blood’ and that Lewis had mud all over.
“They said the girl was swerving, driving crazy, lost control and flipped,” Kimble told police.
Authorities have cautioned against speculation about what happened and say they’re trying to gather facts as family and friends in this struggling northeastern Ohio industrial city try to fit the pieces of the tragedy together. All eight passengers came from the close-knit black community in this small, mostly working-class city of 41,000, so the deaths punched a hole in a part of Warren where everyone seems related by blood or marriage, and the rebellious rituals of youth have played out across generations.
The car was reported stolen on Monday, more than a day after the crash. It wasn’t clear if the passengers knew the car was stolen.
The SUV’s owner told state troopers that his sister lives with Cayson and that she took the keys early Sunday morning while he was sleeping at their apartment.
Marquis Stephenson said they went looking for Cayson when he realized his SUV was gone.
“We got a hold of some family members and they said Lexi was in a bad crash,” said Stephenson, who told police she hadn’t taken his car before.
Henry said the teens had been headed home that morning when he caught a ride with the group after the other boys were already in the vehicle. He said he was not sure what they had been doing earlier.
Lisa Williamson said her son, Brandon Murray, and his best friend, Ramone White, both 14, each told their parents they were sleeping at the other’s house but then ended up at what the young folks call a “kick-back”: a small gathering of friends, less than a party but more grown-up than a sleepover.
“They were just kids out having fun, not kids into gangs, no drugs involved,” Williamson said. “They’re just kids doing what we all did at one time.”
Brandon and Ramone were close friends with another 14-year-old in the car, Andrique Bennett, known as “Butter.” He told his father, Andre Bennett Sr., that he was staying overnight at a friend’s house.
“It’s something they did all the time — go to the mall, go to the movies, then stay over with their friends,” the elder Bennett said Monday at his home.
Everyone described Andrique, Brandon and Ramone as typical teens. They weren’t into crime or drugs. They were lovers of music, video games and sports.
Their mysterious whereabouts on the deadly night were typical, too, Brandon’s mother said.
Sitting in her own living room, Williamson reminisced about her own Saturday nights growing up in Warren: “How many times did we pile into a car, having to get home before Sunday school?”
But she still can’t understand: “What made them get in that car?”
Authorities were awaiting the results of drug and alcohol tests on the dead teens. Investigators say excessive speed was a key factor in the crash, and that the passengers weren’t wearing seat belts.
Five of the dead were trapped inside the SUV when it flipped into about five feet of water. A sixth was thrown from the vehicle and found underneath it, authorities said.
In addition to the driver and Andrique, Brandon and Ramone, state patrol identified the dead as the driver, Kirklan Behner, 15; and Daylan Ray, 15. Three drowned, and autopsies on the others were incomplete, the coroner said.
At a prayer service, Mayor Doug Franklin said lessons can be learned from the crash. He spoke about teaching young people to make good choices.
He said he wants others to know one thing about the young people who died:
“They’re not unlike any other families and young people throughout our country,” he said. “Some bad decisions were made that led to this tragic event.”