By Jennifer Pignolet and Kiera Manion-Fischer
BRUNSWICK — Jeffrey Chaya and Blake Bartchak were inseparable comedians who could make anyone smile. Lexi Poerner and Kevin Fox had only been dating a few months, but were already the couple to envy. Julia Romito can seem shy at first, but is outgoing with her friends.
The five juniors and seniors were best friends at Brunswick High School.
After a one-vehicle crash on Sunday — graduation day for Kevin and Jeff — took everyone’s life but Julia’s, students gathered at the site of the accident Monday to remember their friends.
“Even if this didn’t happen, they’d be the people you remember when you leave high school,” 15-year-old freshman Camille Simonitis said.
Another student said they “changed Brunswick for the better.”
Blake Bartchak, 17
Junior Blake Bartchak was all about football.
“He’s been playing football since he was able to,” his older brother Brent Bartchak said.
Bartchak was a linebacker for the Blue Devils, and his friends said he was looking forward to being a varsity starter next football season.
His brother said after high school, Bartchak planned to go to Cleveland State to study business since he loved saving money.
He said Bartchak and Chaya were best friends, lived in the same neighborhood and worked together as baggers at Buehler’s in Brunswick.
Friend Miranda Zoloty, 16, a Brunswick sophomore, said Bartchak came from a family that has always been polite and inviting.
“I’ve never met nicer people,” she said.
Jeffrey Chaya, 18
Senior Jeff Chaya could make anyone laugh. And he did.
His friends said even kids who weren’t usually social in class at least cracked smiles when Jeff spoke.
After graduation Sunday, Chaya planned to go to Cuyahoga Community College, and then transfer to Cleveland State University, his friends and family said. He aspired to be a gym teacher and coach and was a reserve wide receiver on Brunswick’s football team.
His 15-year-old twin sisters Amanda and Allison Chaya were sorting photos of him early Monday evening on the family dining room table.
Amanda said she wanted him to be remembered as a funny, outgoing kid who was always smiling.
“He was one of my best friends,” she said. “I still think he’s going to come through the door.”
Allison said the siblings were very close.
“He would tell us everything about everything,” she said. “He was just an awesome brother.”
Kevin Fox, 18
It didn’t matter that Kevin Fox had only been dating Lexi Poerner for two months. He knew how to treat his prom date.
Friends said he showed up to school with flowers for Poerner and would bring her lunch regularly.
At the site of the crash, students wrote messages to Fox on a stuffed animal, the kind usually reserved for graduation gifts.
“Thank you for showing me what a true friend is like,” someone wrote.
His friends said he planned to attend Tri-C next school year.
Fox’s family declined an interview request Monday through a spokeswoman at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.
Lexi Poerner, 16
“Beautiful,” “outgoing,” “nice” and “friendly” were the words Savana Poerner, 19, used to describe her sister Lexi.
Lexi Poerner, a junior, enjoyed snowboarding, skiing and shopping, her sister said, and planned to stay close to home for college.
Her aunt, Diane Clark, said she was a member of the German American Cultural Center in Olmsted Falls, where she did German folk dancing.
“She had many friends,” Savana Poerner said. “She was funny, she was there for everyone, whenever.”
Savana recalled trading clothes with her sister before she left to hang out with her friends Saturday night.
“She was wearing my pants and I was wearing her shirt,” she said. “We walked out together.”
Poerner and Kevin Fox had just attended prom together last weekend.
Stephanie Kronenberger, 17, who graduated Sunday, said, “Lexi and Kevin are heaven’s most beautiful couple.”
Junior Haley Krysiak, 17, said she was Lexi Poerner’s best friend, and was wearing a bracelet Lexi Poerner recently brought her back from Hawaii.
In keeping with Lexi’s favorite song, “Paradise” by Coldplay, Krysiak said she knew Poerner is in a better place.
“She’s in her paradise,” she said.
Julia Romito, 17
Brunswick High School Principal Tracy Wheeler said Julia Romito, the lone survivor of the crash, is recovering at Southwest General Hospital.
A hospital spokeswoman said she would not provide updates on her status because Romito is a minor.
Friend Faith Sindelar, a 17-year-old junior, said Romito was able to walk around Monday.
The two worked together at Panera.
“We just started becoming really close because of work,” Sindelar said.
Other friends said Romito does not remember the crash and it is not clear how much she knows about what happened.
Romito’s family could not be reached for this story.
Contact Jennifer Pignolet at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or email@example.com.