The eight teenagers crammed into an SUV that was only supposed to seat five.
They were driving a vehicle that was reported stolen.
And they were speeding down a two-lane northeastern Ohio road, authorities say.
But any poor judgment was quickly eclipsed by a tragic crash that cut short six young lives.
Investigators are trying to determine why, but Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Brian Holt said Monday that weather was not a factor in what he called the deadliest traffic accident in Trumbull County history — and the worst in Ohio in at least three years.
The vehicle was going faster than the 35-mph posted limit, but the exact speed wasn’t clear, Holt said.
Officers are waiting for the results of toxicology tests, but Holt said no signs of alcohol or drugs were found inside the vehicle.
None of the passengers was wearing seat belts, the highway patrol said in a statement. It also said that the owner of the SUV reported it stolen on Monday, although the statement did not indicate whether the owner had been aware of the accident.
No defects were found in the car that could have contributed to the crash.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol identified those killed as Alexis Cayson, 19; Andrique Bennett, 14; Kirklan M. Behner, 15; Daylan Ray, 15; Brandon A. Murray, 14; and Ramone M. White, 15. All were from Warren. Murray had initially been identified as 17.
A desperate search
Two of the injured occupants managed to escape by breaking a rear window in the submerged vehicle, emerging from the pond, then running about a quarter mile to a nearby home to call 911, Holt said.
Within minutes, a dive team plunged into the 4½- to 5-foot deep water to search for the rest.
But none of the other six survived.
“With the vehicle upside down, (that much water) would have been enough to completely immerse the interior of the vehicle,” Holt said.
The divers “did an amazing job,” Holt said. “I know that the end result was tragic, but you can’t ask for better response, professionalism. They got in the water immediately, and they did what they could do,” he said.
Cayson was behind the wheel, the highway patrol said.
“She was loving. She was silly, and she was a clown. She liked to make everybody laugh even when we were sad,” her sister Ashia Cayson told CNN affiliate WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio.
Deanna Behner wept as she remembered her son Kirklan, a popular teen with many friends.
“I got the call that he was in an accident, and when they picked him up they said his heart wasn’t working and they tried for hours to get him to come back,” Behner told WKBN.
Behner said all eight teens were close friends who lived in the same neighborhood.
Holt said it’s unclear where the teenagers were going when they crashed shortly before 7 a.m. Sunday near Warren, about 15 miles west of the Pennsylvania state line.
He said the two survivors were cooperating with investigators.
Sadly not uncommon
About a quarter of 15- to 24-year-olds who died in 2010 were killed in motor vehicle accidents, according to the most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The motor vehicle deaths significantly outpaced the other top culprits: firearm wounds, homicides, suicides and accidental poisonings.
While the number of young drivers involved in fatal crashes has dropped significantly over the past decade, 15- to 20-year-old drivers were at the wheel in 10% of deadly accidents in 2010, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s latest numbers.
A community devastated
Teddy bears now line the guardrail by the crash site. Mourners left notes for the teens, several of whom were students at Warren schools.
“We’re a community that celebrates our victories together, whether they’re in the classroom or on the sports fields and arenas. So we’re also a community that pulls together and cares for each other at times like this,” Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said.
Grieving friends and classmates gathered to mourn Sunday night at the Willard K-8 School, where two of those killed attended. Community leaders initially discussed closing area schools but decided it was important to keep them open Monday.
“We actually had some of the students who were siblings of some of the deceased, and they came to school today, and I think they needed that support,” Warren schools Superintendent Michael Notar said at a news conference Monday, fighting back tears at times.
“I think in times like these (affected students) reach out to teachers and to other students that they feel comfortable being around. And so we just wanted to keep our doors open for our students and provide that support that they may not get if we close school and leave them at home,” Notar said.
Grief counselors visited local schools Monday to help students and staff with the emotional aftermath.
Ashia Cayson said she wants others to learn from the shock of losing her sister.
“Pick up the phone and call your siblings, your family and tell them you love them. You never know what can happen. Tomorrow is not promised to anybody.”
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