Tragic crash in the spotlight

WARREN – The Rev. Phillip Shealey doesn’t know whether the news frenzy that hit the community this week in the aftermath of Sunday’s deadly SUV crash is any indication of what’s to come.

Still, Shealey, pastor of Greater Apostolic Faith Church, said he realizes the importance of helping the victims’ families get ready for the media attention their funerals could attract – including Alexis Cayson’s services on Saturday at his Tod Avenue church.

“I expect you would look for this kind of attention with local media, but as far as nationally, I think that’s been rather overwhelming for some people,” Shealey said. “But I think people realize when you have a tragedy of this magnitude, and one that involves young people like this, it’s understandable on some levels.”

Local, state and national media affiliates started descending on Warren almost immediately after news broke about the crash that killed six Warren teens and injured two others.

The crash is now marked as the deadliest in Trumbull County history, and in Ohio in at least three years.

On Monday, more than 20 reporters gathered for a news conference at the Warren City Schools Administration Building downtown. Several news satellite trucks were also seen at Warren G. Harding High School and Warren’s Willard K-8 building, where some of the victims were students.

Fox News, CNN and The Associated Press reporters were among those stationed at various times at the crash scene on Pine Avenue S.E., just past where the road changes names to Niles-Warren River Road, snapping photos and filming footage of people leaving stuffed animals, cards and notes along the guardrail.

Shealey said he planned to discuss media coverage of Cayson’s funeral with her family as arrangements were finalized.

“It’s definitely a consideration and something that needs addressed,” he said. “Of course, first and foremost is my concern for the family, each of the families actually, and doing what I can to help them through it. But I think everyone realizes how much interest there is.”

The crash has been claiming headlines since the SUV Cayson was driving crashed about 7 a.m. Sunday.

State troopers said the vehicle veered off the left side of the road, struck a guardrail and rolled over onto its roof into a nearby pond, where it was immersed in water. They said none of the occupants were wearing seat belts. Five of them were trapped inside the SUV and a sixth was thrown from the vehicle and found underneath it, according to reports.

Along with Cayson, killed were Daylan Ray, 15; Brandon A. Murray, 14; Andrique Bennett, 14; Kirklan M. Behner, 15; and Ramone M. White, 15. Trumbull County Coroner Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk all of the victims drowned, and their deaths were accidental.

Brian Henry, 18, and Asher Lewis, 15, survived.

Officials from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which is investigating the crash, said they recognize the importance of keeping the community updated on developments in the case.

“We’ve tried to ease people’s concerns and to let them know we’re going to do what we can do to complete this investigation as soon as we possibly can,” Patrol Lt. Anne Ralston said.

Tim Cayson, Alexis Cayson’s uncle, said his family has tried to remain accommodating to reporters and community members.

“But there comes a point where you just get so tired,” he said. “I expected something, but nothing like this. It’s just a shock, you know, this whole thing, that this big tragedy even happened. You just try to make sense out of everything.”

At one point this week Cayson took a break and turned off his phone.

“It just got to be nonstop, reporters calling from all over the country,” he said. “People have a lot of questions. I know that. We understand that. It’s hard for everyone. All I can do is put it in God’s hands and trust in Him to see each and every one of the families through.”

Warren City Schools Superintendent Michael Notar said he is thankful of how respectful reporters have been.

“The attention is understandable,” he said. “It’s a tragedy. It’s not only hit our students and their families but the entire community. But the media has been very sympathetic. They haven’t pressed the issue and have understood these are very difficult days. They’ve been very sensitive to that.”

Two of the teens were students at Willard K-8 school, two were students at Warren G. Harding High School, and one was a past student at Harding.

Notar said he has received phone calls from people of all walks of life, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who reached out to the school district this week and offered support.

“I’ve just been very thankful for everyone,” Notar said.