One year after Brunswick crash that killed four students, pride and support remain strong in city

Mass to be held at 7 p.m. at St. Ambrose Church

BRUNSWICK, Ohio - Exactly one year after the Brunswick tragedy, it's clear fellow teens will not forget the four high school students who died on June 3, 2012.

On the one-year anniversary of the horrible crash, many students at Brunswick High School wore "Blue Devils on Earth, Angels up above" T-shirts, along with wrist bands bearing the names of the victims.

"These kids have remembered these kids for a year. I don't think there's a day that goes by that they don't remember, so even today, it's a silent tribute," said Principal Tracy Wheeler.

Amanda Chaya lost her brother, Jeff, in the accident. She's finishing up her sophomore year and misses the sibling she considered "her rock."

"Everything in that school reminds me of him. Every corner you look, there's something that reminds you of him," Amanda Chaya said.

She also talked about how grateful her family is for the financial and emotional support they continue to receive from the Brunswick community.

"The support has been outstanding and we feel like the community is good to us," Amanda Chaya said.

Wheeler said the district raised $110,000 for the families through T-shirt sales.

A group called Brunswick Blue Pride has raised more money for the relatives. In addition, the group provides scholarships and advocates for teen safe driving programs.

"A bunch of us got together and said, 'We have to do something about this,'" said Tim Smith from Brunswick Blue Pride.

On Monday at 7 p.m., a vigil will take place at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Brunswick to remember the young lives lost.

The crash on Boston Road in Columbia Township killed Jeff Chaya 18, Kevin Fox, 18,  Blake Bartchak, 17, and Lexi Poerner, 16. A fifth student, Julia Romito, was the only survivor. Romito graduated from Brunswick High School on Sunday.

Sean Fox still feels like his younger brother, Kevin Fox, will walk through the front door of his family's Brunswick home at any moment. He needs to remind himself that the crash really happened.

"One second, I can be angry about it and sad about it. It's like bittersweet because you think about all the good times and yet, they're gone. There are no more good times," Fox said.

Sean wears the wrist bands every day to honor the kids, including one that reads "Never Give Up," in honor of Kevin, who played hockey and rugby and made everybody smile.

"June 3 in particular, I'll probably have to keep looking at this band. Just never give up. Kevin won't want me to stop moving," he added.

The Brunswick club rugby team won the state title over the weekend and team members felt Kevin helped guide them to victory.

Brent Bartchak keeps the memory of his brother, Blake, alive by posting a picture his younger sibling on his car's dashboard. A second picture shows Blake, Jeffrey and Lexi smiling at a Cavs game a few months before the accident.

Brent also wears the wrist bands, including one that reads, "Stay Classy," Jeffrey's favorite expression. Jeffrey and Blake were teammates on the Brunswick football team.

"I'm a soul believer that he's still with me every day. I still talk to him like he's here with me," Brent Bartchak said.

Brent also tries to make a difference by talking to the senior class and encouraging them to "get home safe," a slogan Brent and Blake adopted when they learned how to drive.

"Be aware of your surroundings when you're driving. Know the area. Know the speed limit. Know that there are dangerous areas," he tells the students.

Savana Poerner said her sister, Lexi, was a happy and pretty girl who was "a gift in her life."

She's feeling nervous about the one-year anniversary.

"The pain never goes away. You just learn to live with it. There's a hole in my heart that will never heal," Savana Poerner said.

The crash happened on the same day that Jeffrey and Kevin were set to graduate.

A Chevrolet Cavalier, driven by Jeffery Chaya, was going 69 mph when it went airborne over a sloping railroad crossing, according the Ohio State Highway Patrol. The car struck a tree and a ditch before overturning, investigators said.

As a result of the tragedy, the Ohio Department of Transportation is making improvements to that section of Boston Road. Ironically, construction began on Monday -- the anniversary of the crash.

The Ohio Department of Transportation will raise the grade of the roadway at the approach to the crossing, eliminating the possibility of "a "launching pad." The $608,000 project, paid through federal safety funds, was put on a fast track because of the tragedy.

"We had a lot of cooperation with local jurisdictions. Generally, a project of this nature would take two to three years of planning. It's rather unprecedented," said ODOT Spokeswoman Christine Myers.

"I feel like the road should have been fixed years ago, but I'm glad it's being fixed now so something like this doesn't happen again," said Savana Poerner.

Less than a week after the crash, flashing stop signs were installed on both sides of the railroad tracks and new signs set a 25 mph speed limit near the crossing.

Amanda Chaya said will attend Monday's mass and expects a large and supportive crowd inside the church.

'Don't take anyone for granted and live each day to the fullest because you never know when your life can change in a second," she said.

Watch Bob Jones' story Friday during Live On 5.

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