WARREN, Ohio (AP) — Investigators spent Monday trying to piece together why eight teenagers were crammed into a speeding SUV without the owner’s permission when it flipped over into a pond, killing six of them.
Authorities gave no details on where the group of friends had been and why they were out around daybreak Sunday.
While the father of one of the dead said they were coming home from a sleepover at a friend’s house, the mother of another boy killed said that her son and his best friend had lied about staying over at each other’s homes that evening. She said she thinks they went to a party.
“If only he had listened,” said Lisa Williamson, mother of 14-year-old Brandon Murray. “I told him, ‘Don’t you go nowhere.’ But they’re kids.”
No one in the group had asked to take the vehicle, and its owner was not related to any of the teens, said State Highway Patrol Lt. Brian Holt. It was registered to someone from Youngstown, about 20 miles away.
“That’s all we know right now,” Holt said.
State police said the SUV hit a guardrail on a two-lane road in an industrial section of town and landed upside down in about 5 feet of water, filling up in a matter of minutes, Holt said. Five boys and a young woman, ages 14 to 19, were killed.
Two boys smashed a rear window, wriggled out of the wreckage and swam away, then ran a quarter-mile to a home to call 911, authorities said. Brian Henry, 18, and Asher Lewis, 15, suffered only minor injuries.
Investigators said they believe excessive speed was a key factor in the crash, which took place in a 35 mph zone alongside a steel mill near what’s known in the neighborhood as “Dead Man’s Curve.” Authorities did not say how fast the SUV was going. They were also awaiting the results of drug and alcohol tests.
All eight teenagers were from Warren, a mostly blue-collar city of 41,000 near the Pennsylvania line, about 60 miles east of Cleveland.
Friends and family members described the teens as good kids who weren’t troublemakers. Williamson said many of them would hang out and stay overnight in her basement to play video games, listen to music and watch movies.
She said her son called late Saturday night and said he was staying at the home of his best friend Ramone White. She said it wasn’t until after the accident that she found out that wasn’t true.
“It’s what we did when we were growing up, too,” said Williamson, who was wearing a rubbery “Jesus Loves You” bracelet that she took off her dead son’s wrist.
Andre Bennett Sr., whose son Andrique was among those killed, said Monday that his son and the others had all stayed over at a friend’s house and that a girl offered them a ride home.
Chris Jones, 16, said he used to see most of the victims every day at school and in their neighborhood. He knew all but two in the crash.
“They’re not always the best kids. They’re not out there looking for straight A’s,” he said. “But none of these kids should be where they are today. This should have never had happened.”
Five of the dead were trapped inside the sunken SUV. A sixth was thrown from the vehicle and was found underneath it when it was taken out of the water.
State police identified them as the 19-year-old driver, Alexis Cayson; Andrique Bennett, 14; Brandon Murray, 14; and Kirklan Behner, Ramone White and Daylan Ray, all 15.
“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 morgue. He said he knew that his son, a football player who was looking forward to playing in high school, was out with friends, but didn’t know their plans.
Some but not all the teens were wearing seat belts, Holt said. The 1998 Honda Passport is designed to seat five and has only five sets of seat belts.
Associated Press writers Tom Sheeran in Warren, John Seewer in Toledo, Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed this report.