April 21, 2014

Medina
Partly sunny
66°F

Message from the tragedy: ‘Cherish life’

By Kiera Manion-Fischer and Jennifer Pignolet

COLUMBIA STATION — Judy Arena has seen several crashes in front of her Boston Road home, but none as bad as this one.

“You saw things you shouldn’t have to see,” she said Monday as crowds of Brunswick High School students gathered on her front lawn to remember four classmates they lost just a day earlier.

The 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier that Jeffrey Chaya was driving early Sunday morning that crashed into a tree on Boston Road in Columbia Station is seen Tuesday. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY BRUCE BISHOP)

Arena was home around midnight Sunday morning when she heard the car crash. She called for her son and ran outside to help, but there was nothing she could do.

“The car was flipped over,” she said.

Three students — Jeffrey Chaya, 18, Blake Bartchak, 17, and Lexi Poerner, 16 — were pronounced dead at the scene. Two others — Kevin Fox, 18, and Julia Romito, 17 — were taken to area hospitals. Fox died Monday morning at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.

Southwest General Health Center refused to provide status updates on Romito, but friends have said she is recovering.

Chaya 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 the Elyria post of the Ohio Highway Patrol.

The vehicle went off the right side of the road, and 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.

Lt. Travis Hughes of the patrol said alcohol or drugs are not suspected to be factors in the crash.

The speed limit on the stretch of Boston Road near the railroad tracks is 55 mph, and he said the speed of the car was not yet available.

It is also not known whether the students were wearing seat belts, he said.

In the past three years, five crashes have occurred in that general area of Boston Road, and none of them have been fatal, Hughes said.

He added Sunday’s crash remains under investigation.

Bartchak’s 19-year-old brother Brent said the five friends had been watching a movie at his house, and then they said they were headed to Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Liverpool Township, where a sphere-shaped stone known as the “Witch’s Ball” is said to be haunted.

Brunswick High School Principal Tracy Wheeler said too often kids think they are invincible.

If there’s one lesson she said she’d like other students to learn from the tragedy, it is to “cherish life.”

Contact Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.

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