WARREN, Ohio (AP) -- Investigators were focused on speed as a key factor in the crash of a sport utility vehicle carrying eight teenagers that smashed into a guardrail and flipped over into a swampy pond, killing five boys and the young woman driving.
While citing an unspecified “high rate” of speed, investigators wouldn’t speculate on whether alcohol or drugs were involved in the crash about 7 a.m. Sunday on a two-lane road snugged between guardrails just south of this industrial Ohio community.
No one in the vehicle had permission to take it, but there were no theft reports, State Highway Patrol Lt. Brian Holt said. The vehicle was licensed to a resident of Youngstown, about 20 miles away.
“I can’t believe you’re gone,” Mariah Bryant, 12, wrote in a message taped to a stuffed bear at the scene in memory of her half-brother, Daylan Ray, 15, who was killed.
“I love and miss you so much,” said the message, which drew a steady stream of onlookers. The bear was part of a growing memorial of stuffed animals at the roadside.
Deanna Behner said her 15-year-old son and the other teenagers were close friends who lived in the same neighborhood on the east side of Warren, Youngstown TV stations WKBN and WYTV reported. Behner told the stations that authorities unsuccessfully tried for hours to save her son, Kirklan Behner.
The Honda Passport veered off the left side of a road and overturned about 60 miles east of Cleveland, State Highway Patrol Lt. Anne Ralston said. Investigators say it came to rest upside down in the swamp and sank with five of the victims trapped inside. A sixth, who was thrown from the SUV during the crash, was found under it when the vehicle was taken out of the water.
The two boys who survived escaped from the submerged vehicle and ran a quarter-mile to a home to call 911, the highway patrol said.
Holt said at an evening news conference that speed was a factor, although investigators were still trying to determine the speed at the time of the accident.
“We will not be speculating on alcohol and-or drug usage pending toxicology reports,” Holt said.
After the news conference, the gates of an impound lot were opened to show the wreck, with windows smashed and extensive damage to the front end, hood and roof.
Ralston didn’t know where the teens were headed when the crash happened and Holt said later it wasn’t clear how long they had been out.
“All I know is my baby is gone,” said Derrick Ray, who came to the crash site after viewing his 15-year-old son Daylan’s body at the county morgue. He said he knew that his son, a talented football player who was looking forward to playing in high school, was out with friends, but didn’t know their plans.
Warren Fire Department Capt. Bill Monrean said a cold water rescue team was deployed to the scene and got five teens out of the submerged vehicle.
“Being a cold water rescue situation, cold water extends life,” Monrean told AP Radio. “We knew we had a chance; even being in there a while.”
Two of the teens, both 15, were brought to a hospital in full cardiac arrest, St. Joseph Health Center nursing supervisor Julie Gill said, and were pronounced dead there. She said they were treated for hypothermic drowning trauma, indicating they had been submerged in cold water.
The two survivors, 18-year-old Brian Henry and 15-year-old Asher Lewis, both of Warren, were treated for bruising and other injuries and released, she said.
All those killed were ages 14 to 19, authorities said. State police identified the others as the 19-year-old driver Alexis Cayson; Andrique Bennett, 14; Brandon Murray, 17; and Kirklan Behner, Ramone White and Ray, all 15. The Highway Patrol said Cayson was the only female in the vehicle.
Rickie Bowling, 18, a friend of Behner, sobbed at the crash scene as she recalled his playfulness and reputation as a cut-up.
“He was one of a kind,” she said. “Everyone knew him in the neighborhood. In school, he always made everyone laugh.”
Officials opened a school where several of the victims attended to provide counseling for families Sunday night. Superintendent Michael Notar called the crowded closed-door session heartbreaking and said counselors would be available again Monday in schools.
Cheryl Moore, 54, whose nephew is a classmate of some of the victims, emerged from the counseling session and said it was helpful. “I just feel we have to come to grips with what happened today,” she said.
All eight were from Warren.
Warren, located near the Pennsylvania state line, is a mostly blue-collar city that was hit by the decline of U.S. steel mills. It has more than 41,000 residents in the industrial Mahoning Valley region.
Associated Press writer Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed this report.