Teen driver charged in crash that killed 3 Bellbrook students

Jesse Whitaker, 18, who now resides in Cincinnati, was charged Friday with three counts of vehicular homicide, three counts of vehicular manslaughter and failure to control in the crash that killed Julianna Hawk, 14, Skylar Kooken, 16, and Sophie Kerrigan, 17.

They were pronounced dead at the scene when Whitaker’s extended-cab pickup truck left Wagner Road in Sugarcreek Twp. and struck a tree at about 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 4, 2012. The tree was uprooted by the collision.

Zachery Morgan, who was 18, and Allison Magill, then 17, were hospitalized with injuries. All six who were in the truck were students at Bellbrook High School.

Greene County prosecutor Stephen K. Haller said in a release Whitaker will be tried in Green County Juvenile Court because he was 17 at the time of the crash. No court appearance had been scheduled.

Whitaker told police he was driving about 50 miles per hour in the 45 mph zone when he lost control of the truck.

Haller was not available to explain the charges Friday afternoon, but Sophie Kerrigan’s mother, Janet Carpenter, said parents learned during a meeting with detectives and prosecutors on Thursday that Whitaker had been driving at an estimated 86 mph when the wreck took place.

“It’s very disturbing to know that it took 11 months and taxpayer dollars to come to only that conclusion,” Carpenter said.

“The driver was never tested for drugs or alcohol. When we asked the detective why not, he said the prosecutor responded at the time that he didn’t think the judge would agree to that. So it wasn’t done,” Carpenter said.

She said she will work to change the Ohio law that allows teens who are at fault in fatal traffic accidents to be tried as juveniles and therefore avoid some jail time. “When you sign on the dotted line to drive, I believe you should face the same consequences that adult drivers do.”

Following the accident, police said there had been no physical evidence of alcohol or drug use.

Magill, Kerrigan and Kooken had been at a party late Nov. 3 when Hawk called from another party and asked them for a ride home. They asked Morgan and Whitaker for a ride and picked up Hawk in Kettering before the crash.

Magill, who was in the rear seat, survived with a punctured lung and fractured collarbone, ribs and pelvis.

She said only Morgan, Whitaker and Kooken had been wearing seat belts.

Carpenter said scholarships have been established at Wright State University in the names of all three girls who died.

A foundation for one of Kerrigan’s concerns, rescued, abused and neglected animals, has also been launched.

Carpenter said the website is SophiesAnimalFund.com.

“There are still days when I cry and when we all do,” Carpenter said. “There are still days when I can’t believe this really happened. “

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