September 1, 2014

Medina
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Families of killed Brunswick students sue over 2012 crash

The families of three of the four Brunswick High School students killed in a car crash two years ago have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against CSX Corporation, Columbia and Liverpool township trustees and the commissioners and engineers in Lorain and Medina counties.

Killed in the June 3, 2012, crash were Blake Bartchak, 17, Lexi Poerner, 16, Kevin Fox, 18, and driver Jeffrey Chaya, 18.

Black Bartchak

Blake Bartchak

Jeffrey Chaya

Jeffrey Chaya

A fifth student in the vehicle, Julia Romito, survived the crash, but had no memory of what happened.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Lorain County Common Pleas Court by the families of three passengers in the car: Bartchak, Poerner and Fox.

Officials in both Medina and Lorain counties are included as defendants because the railroad crossing on Boston Road, where the crash occurred, straddles the boundary between the counties.

Kevin Fox

Kevin Fox

Lexi Poerner

Lexi Poerner

The suit was filed in Lorain County because the students were westbound, on the north side of the line in Columbia Station, when they crossed the tracks and their car went airborne, left the roadway, crashed into a culvert and flipped onto its roof.

Chaya, Bartchak and Poerner died at the scene. Fox died the following day at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. Romito was released from Southwest General Health Center a few days after the crash.

The lawsuit contends that the railroad and officials in the counties and townships knew or should have known about the dangers of the steep crossing and taken steps before the crash to mitigate the danger.

The suit specifically charges the government officials “negligently failed to maintain the berm area, culvert and right of way of Boston Road” near the crossing.

The railroad was negligent, the suit charges, in failing to fulfill its “duty to maintain, repair, inspect and upgrade” the crossing.

ABOVE: Within weeks of the June 3, 2012 crash that killed four Brunswick High students, flashing stop signs and caution signs were installed at the Boston Road railroad crossing.  BELOW: More than a year after the crash, the crossing’s steep grade was leveled in August 2013 as part of a $450,000 safety project. (GAZETTE FILE PHOTOS)

ABOVE: Within weeks of the June 3, 2012 crash that killed four Brunswick High students, flashing stop signs and caution signs were installed at the Boston Road railroad crossing. BELOW: More than a year after the crash, the crossing’s steep grade was leveled in August 2013 as part of a $450,000 safety project. (GAZETTE FILE PHOTOS)

Police have said drivers were known to use the crossing’s steep grade as a ramp to launch their vehicles airborne. The Ohio Highway Patrol determined that Chaya’s Chevrolet Cavalier was traveling at 69 mph when he lost control of the vehicle.

The Highway Patrol report, released about three weeks after the crash, detailed damage to the road caused by several cars gouging the pavement and cited the crossing as “well known to residents of the area as an area to ‘jump’ vehicles.”

Lt. Travis Hughes, of the Elyria post, said there was no evidence the Brunswick students, two of whom were set to graduate the day of the accident, were attempting a stunt when they crashed.

“It would be complete speculation,” Hughes said.

Following the crash, the Ohio Department of Transportation conducted a speed study and determined the speed limit should be lowered from 55 to 45 mph. In addition, the crossing was equipped with flashing LED stop signs at the base of the incline and warning signs with a recommended speed of 25 mph when crossing the tracks.

Last year, the railroad crossing underwent a $450,000 safety overhaul, including smoothing down the grade.

In addition to compensatory damages for negligence resulting in the students’ deaths, the lawsuit also asks for punitive damages, charging the defendants “acted willfully and/or wantonly and/or recklessly by engaging in conduct that exhibited a conscious disregard for the rights and safety” of the public.

Contact reporter David Knox at (330) 721-4065 or dknox@medina-gazette.com.