July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Classmates flock to site where 4 Brunswick students killed

To see a slideshow of Brunswick students visiting the crash site Monday, click here

Brunswick High School students gather Monday at the site of a one-vehicle crash that took the lives of four of their classmates and injured another early Sunday — graduation day — on Boston Road in Columbia Station. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY JENNIFER PIGNOLET))

BRUNSWICK — They didn’t have to say anything, but they needed to be together.

A group of them gathered on the football field, huddled on the Brunswick “B” on the turf. They lined the hallways and packed the gym and the cafeteria, some crying and hugging, others just being.

Brunswick High School students were exempt from taking final exams Monday as they grieved for the four classmates killed and another injured in a Columbia Station crash early Sunday morning.

Principal Tracy Wheeler said students asked if they could come to school anyway.

“That’s what they needed to do today,” she said. “They just needed to be together.”

Killed in the crash were seniors Jeffrey Chaya and Kevin Fox, both 18, and juniors Blake Bartchak, 17, and Lexi Poerner, 16. Junior Julia Romito, 17, is recovering at Southwest General Health Centers.

Their classmates flocked to the site of the accident Monday, just on the other side of train tracks on Boston Road, west of Marks Road.

Students laid flowers, stuffed animals and homemade memorials on the grass where their friends’ car had flipped hours earlier. On the adjacent pavement were the spray-painted marks the Ohio Highway Patrol left while recreating the accident scene.

Buehler’s in Brunswick, where two of the students worked, reported running out of flower bouquets on Monday.

Wheeler said the gatherings helped students grieve, although with school now over, it would be harder to get closure.

“They want to sign every banner,” she said. “They want to do whatever they can.”

A group of about 20 students held their own prayer circle on the grass just behind the crash site.

Seventeen-year-old Miranda Flowers, who graduated from Brunswick on Sunday, encouraged her friends to stay strong and hold onto their memories.

“It’s amazing how much we united in the last 24 hours,” Flowers said. “It just shows our true colors.”

Superintendent Mike Mayell said the students are continuing to find new ways to honor their friends.

“It keeps them active, it helps them get through the hurt,” Mayell said. “It’s been quite inspiring to see what they’re doing and how creative they can be.”

Grief counselors will be available for students through the week, he said, and several area congregations have offered help to anyone seeking support.

While this isn’t the first time Brunswick has experienced tragedy, Mayell said the support from within the city and outside its boundaries has been as strong as ever.

“When things get tough here, this community gets tougher,” he said.

For the families of those who died, the community outpouring has not gone unnoticed.

Savana Poerner, 19, who lost her sister Lexi in the crash, said the support has been “unbelievable.”

“I didn’t realize that so many people were there and cared,” she said. “So many ceremonies, T-shirts, ribbons, Facebook stuff, stuff on Twitter, pictures,” she said. “It’s really great.”

Amanda Chaya, 15, who lost her brother Jeffrey, said the compassion “makes it easier.”

“It makes it feel that we’re not alone,” she said.

Reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer contributed to this report.

Contact Jennifer Pignolet at (330) 721-4063 or jpignolet@medina-gazette.com.