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Appeals court upholds decision in fatal crash case

Agrees to absolve Trumbull County in wrongful death lawsuit

WARREN — A ruling by the 11th District Court of Appeals has upheld the decision by a county judge, which absolved Trumbull County in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the families of five teenagers killed in a March 10, 2013, accident.

Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Ronald Rice on Jan. 2 ruled the area of Pine Street SE where the fatal crash occurred is located in the city, the jurisdiction for maintaining the guardrail involved in the fatal crash.

Six teenagers were killed after the southbound 1998 Honda Passport van they were traveling in lost control, veered left, crossed over the northbound lane, went onto the east berm of the road and hit the east guardrail. This caused the vehicle to catapult into the air, landing upside down in a nearby retention pond.

The appeal was filed by the attorney for the families of Daylan Ray, 15; Kirklan Behner, 15; Andrique Bennett, 14; Ramone White, 15; and Brandon Murray, 14, who were all killed. The family of Alexis Cayson, 19, who was the driver of the vehicle and also died, was not represented in the lawsuit.

Two others, Brian Henry II and Asher Lewis, had escaped the vehicle through a window.

Appellate judges Thomas Wright, Matt Lynch and Mary Jane Trapp affirmed the judgment of Rice in the case.

“Per its (1988 agreement), the city had the duty to maintain the guard-rail and necessarily, the liability for failure to do so,” Wright wrote.

Rice had ruled the guardrail that was damaged — three sections with seven poles — is owned by the city of Warren.

In a probate court agreement filed on April 10, 2018, the city agreed to pay $10,000 individual settlements with the families of Ray, Behner, Bennett, White and Murray. The agreement provided $1,606.80 to the attorney for case expenses and $3,333.33 for attorney fees for the wrongful death claims.

Law Director Greg Hicks said the city immediately after the fatal crash sent its investigators to the scene. They found the road was in good condition and the guardrail fit the code for the time it was installed. Since then, newer, higher standards for guardrails were put in place because of the taller frames of trucks and SUVs, Hicks said.

Police reports state Cayson was driving the van at 62 mph in a 35 mph zone at the time of the accident.

An email was sent for comment by the plaintiffs’ attorney Willard E. Bartel of Cleveland, but it was not answered.

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