Thomas J. Sheeran
CLEVELAND: A graduation-day wreck that killed four high school students occurred as their car raced at 69 mph over a sloping railroad crossing and went airborne at a well-known spot where motorists “jump” their vehicles, according to an accident reconstruction report.
The 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier fell 5 feet to the ground and traveled almost 90 feet before landing, according to the State Highway Patrol report released Tuesday.
The June 3 accident in Columbia Township, southwest of Cleveland, occurred hours before two of the victims were set to graduate from Brunswick High School. A fifth student was injured.
The driver and two passengers, including the survivor, were wearing seat belts, according to the report. There was no indication alcohol was involved.
“The section of road where this crash took place appears to be a well-known location for residents of the area to ‘jump’ their vehicles,” the report said.
“Fresh acceleration marks present on the eastern edge of the railway crossing also indicates area residents target this specific point to ‘jump’ vehicles.”
The estimated speed when the car hit the ground was 59 mph. The vehicle’s data recorder indicated the brake wasn’t engaged.
The road has a 55 mph speed limit. New signs set a 25 mph limit near the crossing.
The accident killed the driver, Jeffrey Chaya, and Kevin Fox — both 18-year-olds who were scheduled to graduate later in the day — and Blake Bartchak, 17, and Lexi Poerner, 16.
A 17-year-old girl, Julia Romito, was injured. She has been released from the hospital.
A resident living near the railroad crossing, Judy Arena, told the Associated Press after the accident that wrecks by cars going too fast over the tracks are common. She said she has seen young people park and watch their friends speed over the tracks.