June 30, 2016

Partly cloudy

1,200 fill church at candlelight vigil for crash victims

BRUNSWICK — St. Ambrose Catholic Church was a sea of blue and white Wednesday night.

The church seats 1,200 and it was filled to capacity for a candlelight vigil following the calling hours for Jeffrey Chaya, 18, and Blake Bartchak, 17.

From left, football teammates Mitch Slyman, Matt Schoolcraft and Kevin Hennis sway to a song Wednesday night at a candlelight prayer vigil. (GAZETTE PHOTOS BY CHUCK HUMEL)

Julia Romito, 17, the sole survivor of the Columbia Station crash that killed Bartchak, Chaya and two other Brunswick High School students, has been released from Southwest General Health Center in Middleburg Heights and is at home recovering, Brunswick High School Principal Tracy Wheeler said after the service.

Lexi Poerner, 16, also died in the crash and Kevin Fox, 18, died Monday.

Chaya and Fox were due to graduate Sunday.

Many at the memorial vigil wore shirts designed by students with the words, “Blue Devils on earth, Angels up above” on the front, and “Rest in Peace,” with the names of the four students on the back.

The line to go into the church curved around the building at 2 p.m. when calling hours began and just before the vigil at 8 p.m.

Brunswick High School juniors Marina Holbert and Chad Damian said they waited three hours Wednesday afternoon to pay their respects to the families of Bartchak and Chaya. They said they both knew Bartchak.

“It’s just important to show the family that they have the support of the community,” Holbert said. “No matter what happens, Brunswick will come together.”

During the vigil, the Rev. Bob Stec told the Bartchak and Chaya families to come up to the front of the church. He asked everyone who attended to say their own names at once.

“We want you to know how greatly, greatly, we care about you,” Stec said to them.

The church’s altar was filled with flowers and memorabilia, and the closed caskets of Chaya and Bartchak rested on each side of it. Chaya’s diploma was displayed at the back of the church.

Attendees light candles at the vigil.

Billy Vaccariello, who said he had been friends with Chaya since they were 7 years old, recalled how they shared passions for backyard baseball and collecting sports cards. Later, both played football.

Vaccariello, who graduated from Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, said the two would always compare notes on games.

“He wanted me to succeed as much as he wanted himself to succeed,” Vaccariello said.

Todd Grabowski, Bartchak’s uncle, read a letter the family received from his sixth-grade teacher, who wrote that Bartchak touched his heart.

“I pray that during this horrible time, you know Blake made a difference,” Grabowski read from the letter.

At the time of the accident, Chaya was driving a 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier west on Boston Road, east of Boone Road, at 12:11 a.m. Sunday when he lost control of the vehicle carrying the students after it crossed a railroad track.

It is not known how fast the car was traveling, but the Ohio Highway Patrol has said unsafe speed is a factor in the crash.

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

View photos at SmugMug