The Sugarcreek Township police department released the preliminary crash report on Thursday for an early Sunday morning accident that killed three Bellbrook High School students and injured three others.
The report said that Jesse Ryan Whitaker, 17, was driving a Dodge Ram pickup truck east on Wagner Road sometime before 12:40 am on Sunday when he lost control of the vehicle, drove off the road, struck a traffic sign and crashed into a tree, according to the report.
Julianna Hawk, 14, Sophie Kerrigan, 17, and Skylar Kooken, 16, were pronounced dead at the scene after 12:45 am, when officers and emergency personnel arrived, the report said.
Injured in the accident were Whitaker, Zachery Morgan, 18, and Allison Magill, 17. The teens were taken to area hospitals to be treated for their injuries. Whitaker and Morgan have been released from the hospital. Magill is in good condition, a Kettering Medical Center spokesman said Thursday.
Whitaker told officers he was driving 50 miles per hour, the report said. The posted speed limit is 45 miles per hour along that section of Wagner Road.
“As a reconstructionist, it’s my job to attempt to prove or disprove that,” said Detective Sgt. J.R. Williams, an investigator with the Sugarcreek Twp. Police Department.
On Thursday afternoon, Morgan said he and Whitaker were trying to help a friend the evening of the accident. Julianna Hawk called them and said boys at a party in Kettering were bothering her and she needed a ride.
“We never set foot in the party,” Morgan said.
An unidentified man at Morgan’s home Thursday said Morgan and Whitaker were at the gym before driving to Kettering.
The crash battered Morgan’s face and it is now covered in stitches. His arm is wrapped in a cast and has four plates, 20 staples and about 100 stitches, he said.
Morgan said he is trying to cope with the accident.
“I have emotional (pain),” he said. “Physically, I don’t feel any pain.”
Investigators said they do not believe the crash was drug- or alcohol-related.
“There were no tests requested as far as alcohol or drugs,” Williams said. “It doesn’t’ mean they were not involved. It means there are not indicators at this time.”
Typical indicators of a drug- or alcohol-related crash include the odor of alcoholic beverages, impaired speech and blood shot eyes.
“It’s a compilation of many factors,” Williams said. “By themselves, any one of these can mimic the indication of injuries, but we look at all these factors combined.”
Whitaker was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, however investigators are still trying to determine whether the passengers were wearing them too.
“None of the occupants were ejected from the vehicle,” Williams said. “Whether or not they were wearing seatbelts I can’t tell from that.”
An outpouring of support
Students from schools around the region continued to reach out to Bellbrook High School on Thursday morning, according to a school district official.
Students from Oakwood High School went to Bellbrook’s high school Thursday with a banner in memory of the three girls killed on Sunday.
Schools around the region — including Carroll and Miamisburg high schools — have sent flowers, banners and food, said Keith St. Pierre, Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools superintendent.
About 12 counselors and psychologists were available for students on Monday. Their numbers were reduced to three counselors by Thursday, according to the superintendent. The number of students who met with counselors was about 40 — fewer than staff anticipated.
Staff members believe the vigil at the school Sunday night was helpful for students and community, St. Pierre said.
“We think it helped the grieving process,” he said.
Counseling for the students also will be available next week.
“As kids need help or support, we’re going to be there for them,” St. Pierre said.
Students at area schools also have turned to social media to remember the crash victims. Nick Bertram is a senior at Centerville. He started the Centerville Herd student group about a year ago and runs the Twitter feed with another student.
Bertram said he wrote a note asking people to look out for people in their communities and work together to prevent tragedies. He posted it at about 5:30 p.m. on Sunday and copied several other local student groups. It has been retweeted more than 500 times.
Although the schools compete with each other in sports, they all want to show their respect and support following the tragedy.
Mitchell Haber, a 19-year-old Centerville High School graduate, was killed in a vehicle crash earlier this year after his Ford Mustang crashed into a tree.
Sunday’s fatal crash was the third fatal traffic crash involving teens in eight days. Greenville High School students Brian Mendenhall,15, and cousins Justice and Austin Meade, both 16, were killed Oct. 27 in a single-car crash after the driver lost control of the car on Byrkett Road and Barry Drive. Five days later, 17-year-old Springboro High School student Shaun A. Frechette was killed after he lost control of his car and struck a utility pole while driving to school Thursday.
“We wanted to show that we can make a change,” Bertram said. “We need to look out for our friends.”
“After what happened (in Centerville) everyone looked in the mirror.”
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