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Update: Graduation day tragedy: Ohio crash kills 4 teens

Chuck Crow / The Plain Dealer

Sean Egan embraces Brandon Davies as the Brunswick High School students mourn at the site of a fatal crash on Boston Road in Columbia Township on Sunday.

A car carrying five teenagers went airborne as it sped over railroad tracks early Sunday and crashed, killing the 18-year-old driver hours before his high school graduation and two of his passengers, the Ohio State Highway Patrol said. 

A fourth teen, who was airlifted from the scene, died Monday at the Metrohealth Medical Center, the Plain Dealer reported.


Less than 13 hours after the crash, Brunswick High School students left empty seats covered with flowers at their graduation ceremony to remember driver Jeffrey Chaya and Kevin Fox, the student who died Monday. 

"It was very sad," Superintendent Michael Mayell said after the commencement ceremony at the University of Akron. "There were a lot of tears." 

The 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier was traveling at a high speed just after midnight when Chaya lost control in Columbia Township in northeast Ohio, troopers at the Elyria post said. The car went airborne and off the right side of the roadway, then swerved across the left side of the road, hit a ditch and tree, then flipped over, according to the troopers' report. 

Chaya, front-seat passenger Blake Bartchak, 17, and back-seat passenger Lexi Poerner, 16, died in the crash, according to The Chronicle-Telegram newspaper

Cleveland's Plain Dealer reported that Chaya and Bartchak were close friends, having first met in fourth grade when Chaya moved to the neighborhood. The two were together "constantly," Chaya's parents told the newspaper. 

Fox, a back-seat passenger, was thrown from the car into a ditch, troopers said. He was flown to Cleveland Metro Health Medical Center where he died Monday.

The fifth person in the car, identified by troopers as 17-year-old Julia Romito, was taken to Southwest General Hospital. The Plain-Dealer said reported she was in stable condition in surgical intensive care. 

Peggy Turbett / The Plain Dealer

Colin Curtis, left and Sobhit Haribakthi, seniors who graduated from Brunswick High School Sunday, grieve during a prayer service at St. Ambrose Church..

'Very popular students'
Fox and Chaya were called during the commencement, which included a moment of silence and comments about the tragic accident, Mayell said. More than 600 students graduated Sunday. 

Grief counselors were available to meet with students at the high school later in the day. Memorial services were held Sunday evening at a church and a performing arts center. 

 "We want to allow the families to grieve in peace, and do whatever we can to get through this very tragic situation," Mayell said. 

Troopers were still investigating the crash Sunday. They said the only confirmed factor was unsafe speed, although they were still calculating the car's estimated speed. 

Peggy Turbett / The Plain Dealer

Angel Smith, left, Samantha Aborub, and Charlotte Sigel, friends of Lexi Poerner and graduates of Brunswick High School in 2010, mourn during the candelight service for Brunswick High School victims.

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." 

Chaya, a wide receiver on the Brunswick High football team, was the kind of teen with a lot of "best friends," his mother Paula Chaya told the Plain Dealer.  

"He just loved being around his friends, and he had a ton of people who loved him," she told the newspaper. 

Chaya had posted Saturday on his Twitter account: "Weird to think graduation is tomorrow time does fly big time." 

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. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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