No drugs to blame in deadly crash

SOUTHINGTON – No drugs or alcohol were found in the system of the 19-year-old Warren teen who was driving an SUV March 10 when she and five other city teens were killed and two others injured after the overloaded vehicle drove off the road into a pond, authorities said Thursday.

In fact, none of the passengers in the crash on Niles Warren River Road had any alcohol in their systems, according to Lt. Brian Holt of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

He said some drug screens were still pending on some of the passengers and the investigation will continue.

The crash was the deadliest in Trumbull County’s history, and troopers have described the events leading up to the crash as a ”sleepover scenario” that took on the characteristics of ”joyriding.”

Holt, who staged a news conference at the patrol post, said crash reconstructionists say the 1998 Honda Passport that was driven by Alexis Cayson, 19, of Seventh Street S.W., was traveling at speeds of between 62 and 70 mph. No one was wearing seat belts.

Cayson, who didn’t have a valid driver’s license, was not believed to have been distracted when the vehicle went out of control, he said.

”The evidence retrieved shows that there was no interference with the driver which would have caused her to lose control,” Holt said.

The southbound SUV was on a slight incline and on a straight section of the two-lane road when it crossed left of center and hit a guardrail, sending the vehicle airborne before it landed on its roof in the small, five-foot deep pond just north of Burton Street S.E.

The six who died all drowned in the small pond, according to the Trumbull County coroner.

Holt said it was dark, the pavement was dry and the vehicle was in an unlit area where the speed limit is 35 mph.

”When Miss Cayson began to lose control, she was already near the center line. Furthermore, evidence shows that Miss Cayson was driving erratically prior to losing control and traveling off the roadway,” Holt said. ”Again, Miss Cayson was the sole occupant in control of the vehicle.”

Along with Cayson, killed were Daylan Ray, 15; Brandon A. Murray, 14; Andrique Bennett, 14; Kirklan M. Behner, 15; and Ramone J. White, 15.

Asher C. Lewis, 15, and Brian Henry, 18, survived after Henry broke out a window with his elbow and climbed out of the SUV as it filled with water. Lewis followed him out before both ran about a quarter mile to find help.

Holt also said that the investigation, including interviews with the survivors, concluded that Cayson took keys to the SUV from the jacket of her roommate’s brother, who was spending the night. The SUV owner, Marquis Stephenson, 33, of Youngstown, spent the night at his sister’s home on North Feederle Avenue S.E. He was unable to find his keys and reported the car missing almost 30 hours after the crash.

Holt said a timeline leading up to the crash shows Cayson had the keys and was driving around as early as 11:30 p.m. the day before the crash.

Holt admitted there are still gaps in the timeline, including a ”window” between 4 and 6 a.m. when not much driving occurred. Two passengers were picked up shortly before the crash shortly before 7 a.m., he said.

Some of the passengers in the car knew each other. Others were only vague acquaintances and knew first names or where the passengers lived.

He said the investigation has determined that some of the joyriding took the teens to locations on Tod Avenue, Colonial Street and Francis Street.

Holt called March 10 a ”dark day,” but he invited residents to learn from the tragedy.

State patrol officials were joined by Warren Mayor Doug Franklin, who said there has been a lot of hugging and crying among family members and residents.

”Circumstances brought families together. It’s about community healing,” Franklin said.