BRUNSWICK — What should have been a day of celebration became a day of mourning for the Brunswick High School community.
Early Sunday morning, on graduation day, three Brunswick High School students were killed and two were injured in a crash in Columbia Station. One of the injured teens died this morning.
Jeffrey Chaya, 18, was driving his 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier west on Boston Road, east of Boone Road, at 12:11 a.m. when he lost control of the vehicle after it crossed a railroad track and went airborne, according to a news release from the Elyria post of the Ohio Highway Patrol.
The vehicle went off the right side of the road, then Chaya overcorrected and went off the left side of the road before the car he was driving struck a ditch and a tree and overturned back on the road, resting upside down.
Chaya, front seat passenger Blake Bartchak, 17, and backseat passenger Lexi Poerner, 16, died in the crash.
Backseat passenger Kevin Fox, 18, was ejected from the car. He was flown to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. He died Monday morning.
Julia Romito, 17, another backseat passenger, was transported to Southwest General Hospital. The hospital would not release her condition because she is a minor, a spokesperson said.
The crash is under investigation, and it is unknown whether alcohol or drug use was involved, but high speed was a factor, according to the Patrol.
Chaya and Fox, both seniors, were due to graduate Sunday at the James A. Rhodes Arena at the University of Akron. The audience clapped for several minutes when Fox’s name was called.
Poerner, Bartchak and Romito are all juniors at Brunswick High School.
Students said Chaya and Bartchak, both on the football team, were well known throughout the school. Chaya was a wide receiver and Bartchak was a linebacker.
After a gathering of several hundred students later in the day following graduation, at Brunswick High School, Nathan Gentile, a senior, said he’d known Chaya since the two were 10 years old.
“He just always had a smile on his face,” Gentile said.
Many students were in tears, and others hugged one another during the gathering.
“A lot of kids are taking it hard,” Gentile said. “It’s hard to believe. Everyone’s just in shock.”
Todd Grabowski, Bartchak’s uncle, also said Bartchak was always smiling. Grabowski said the five students had been watching a movie at the Bartchak household before going for a drive. He said he wasn’t sure where they had been headed.
Community members gathered for a memorial service at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in the evening. The church was packed with hundreds of mourners. All of the students involved in the crash were also parishioners at the church.
The Rev. Bob Wenz said grief counselors from Cornerstone of Hope Bereavement Center would be available at the church today, Tuesday and Wednesday from 5 to 8 p.m.
“They were truly, truly, truly good people,” the Rev. Bob Stec said during the service, referring to Chaya, Bartchak and Poerner. “Literally, our church is bursting this evening from the impact and the way they touched our lives.”
Brunswick Superintendent Mike Mayell said the accident had a profound impact on students.
“Our thoughts and our prayers are with the families,” he said.
Brunswick High School Principal Tracy Wheeler said she spoke to students about embracing the future and not taking anything for granted at graduation.
Fox's family released the following statement this morning through a hospital spokeswoman: "We are grateful for the overwhelming support that the Northeast Ohio community has given our family during this difficult time."
Contact Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.