COLUMBIA TWP, Ohio - A car carrying five high school students went airborne as it sped over railroad tracks in northeast Ohio early Sunday and crashed, killing three of the teens, including the 18-year-old driver who was hours away from his high school graduation, the Ohio State Highway Patrol said. A fourth teen died from his injuries Monday morning.
All five students were from Brunswick. The driver was a senior football player whose Brunswick High School graduation ceremony was scheduled Sunday afternoon.
The 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier was traveling at a high speed just after midnight when the driver lost control in Columbia Township, troopers at the Elyria post said. The car went airborne and then off the right side of the roadway, then swerved across the left side of the road, hit a ditch and tree, then flipped over onto the roadway, according to the troopers' report.
The driver, Jeffrey Chaya, and two passengers, 17-year-old Blake Bartchak and 16-year-old Lexi Poerner, were killed, the patrol said.
Another passenger, Kevin Fox, was thrown from the car into a ditch, troopers said. Fox, 18, was flown to Cleveland Metro Health Medical Center, where he died on Monday.
Fox's family released the following statement:
Kevin Fox has passed away. We are grateful for the overwhelming support that the Northeast Ohio community has given our family during this difficult time.
The fifth person in the car, identified by troopers as 17-year-old Julia Romito, was taken to Southwest General Hospital, which wouldn't release information on her.
Troopers were investigating the crash Sunday. They said the only confirmed factor was unsafe speed, although they were still calculating the car's estimated speed.
Chaya, a wide receiver on the Brunswick High football team, had posted Saturday on his Twitter account: "Weird to think graduation is tomorrow time does fly big time."
More than 600 of his classmates were scheduled to graduate Sunday in commencement ceremonies being held at the University of Akron.
"We're going to gauge how the students are doing," said Brunswick Schools Superintendent Michael Mayell. "We're going to have a moment of silence for the kids. We want to allow the families to grieve in peace, and do whatever we can to get through this very tragic situation."
Mayell has known Poerner's family for years, and said the students who were killed were well known at school, taking part in school activities and volunteering.
"They were very popular students, very well-liked," Mayell said.
"We've always been a very tight-knit community," he said. "It's one of those things that happens that I just don't get."
On Saturday, graduating seniors at another northeast Ohio high school wore special red and black ribbons as a sign of unity and remembrance in the aftermath of the Feb. 27 Chardon school shootings that killed three students and wounded two others.