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Guarding Secrets: Ohio National Guard hides truth about Humvee crash that killed father & young son

Posted: 5:56 AM, Feb 16, 2018
Updated: 2018-02-19 10:35:23-05

The Ohio National Guard’s mission is to prepare for emergencies. But when one of their members caused a deadly crash, our investigation found it began guarding its secrets.

 

A deadly crash. 

A family demanding answers. 

Our exclusive 5 On Your Side Investigation found the Ohio National Guard refuses to reveal what happened in the hours before one of their own killed a father and his young son. 

 

The Crash

‘’I answered the phone, and I hear a trooper,” Brittany Bentley said. “He needed to get in contact with me, he needed to come see me right now.

“He just (said), there was an accident and they're both dead."

Her son, 6-year-old Wyatt, and his father, 34-year-old Bryan Bargar, were driving home to Berea after visiting friends in Portage County on Sept. 10, 2016. 

 

Rain poured down as they passed a convoy of Ohio National Guard Humvees on State Route 14 and Lake Rockwell Road in Ravenna Township. 

As 21-year-old Jeremy Taylor, the driver of the last Humvee, attempted to pass a school bus, he lost control of the military truck, according to an Ohio State Highway Patrol report. 

The report said Taylor slammed on his brakes, slid left of center and sideswiped a woman’s PT Cruiser, before Taylor crashed head-on into Bargar’s Kia Optima.

"He just (said), there was an accident and they're both dead."

“I screamed and hit the floor,” said Bentley after she learned about the crash. “How can you lose control of something that big with tires that big and just wipe out?"

She wanted answers. 

She wasn’t alone. 

 

The Request

“He was my best friend,” said Denise Snyder, Bargar’s sister.  “He always helped me out.”  

She and her husband, David, have their own questions about the crash. 

“I want to know what this kid was like, who he was, what his service record was like,” said David Snyder of Taylor. “Has he made mistakes before?”  

 

The Ohio State Highway Patrol’s investigation answered some of their questions. 

It concluded Taylor’s inexperience and wet roads contributed to the crash. 

However, the family is still waiting for critical information about the moments leading up to the crash.

The Ohio National Guard conducted its own investigation to prevent future problems.

The letter said it would take the guard until November 2019 to fulfill the request – more than three years after the crash.

The Snyder family’s attorney, Tom Merriman, requested a copy of the guard’s report under the Freedom of Information Act – the law that gives the public the right to request records from the government – in hopes of finding out what the guard’s investigation uncovered about events leading up to the crash. 

“I asked for the basics,” Merriman said. “I wanted to know what the government knows about this crash.” 

Instead of the guard’s report, the attorney received a letter. 

The letter said it would take the guard until November 2019 to fulfill the request – more than three years after the crash. 

The Reaction

“That’s about two years beyond absurd,” said Tim Smith, a media law expert. “We’re not talking about information that’s held within the bowels of the CIA.

“This is information that is routinely kept within the army records and would take all of 15, maybe 20 minutes, to access,” he said.  “This is an attempt, basically, to blow you off.”

Before the attorney spent 30 years teaching media law at Kent State University, Smith was a newspaperman. He worked for close to 20 years as a reporter and editor at the Akron Beacon Journal, where he was part of team awarded the Pulitzer Prize for reports on the Kent State shootings. 

Based on his experience, Smith said the Ohio National Guard is violating open records laws by delaying the release of its report on the crash.  

“This, under the Freedom of Info Act, would amount to an excessive delay,” he said. “This is unreasonable, and there’s no basis for it.

“There’s no question they have gone above and beyond what the law provides and are attempting to basically deny you access to the information,” he said. 

After all, emails obtained by 5 On Your Side Investigators from the Ohio National Guard show the crash investigation was completed last August. 

The Incidents

5 On Your Side Investigators also found the crash was far from an isolated incident. 

Since 2013, there were 19 motor vehicle crashes involving Humvees owned and operated by the Ohio National Guard, according to Stephanie Beougher, Public Information Officer with the Ohio National Guard Office of Public Affairs. 

 

“There have been two discipline cases arising from Humvee accidents involving either a casualty or large amount of property damage,” according to an e-mail from Beougher. 

However, the guard refused to specify whether either of those cases involve Jeremy Taylor, who is still currently a member of the Ohio National Guard.

5 On Your Side Investigators also uncovered several reports of motor vehicle crashes involving Humvees owned by the U.S. military around the country, including a 2009 accident involving a U.S. Army National Guard Humvee in Troy, Texas. 

The Humvee went airborne, flew left of center and slammed head-on into two vehicles in an opposing lane on Interstate 35, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The guardswoman behind the wheel and two other drivers were killed. 

The Response

Beougher said the Ohio National Guard does not have the authority to release records about its investigation into the crash that killed Bryan Bargar and his son, Wyatt.

In an email, she referred us to the National Guard Bureau as the agency responsible for handling Freedom of Information Act requests. 

 5 On Your Side Investigators then reached out to National Guard Bureau of Public Affairs. 

“Requests received in Jan. 2018 have an estimated completion of Aug 2019”, according to Sgt. 1st Class W. Michael Houk, National Guard Bureau Public Affairs, Media Operations.

The National Guard Bureau Office of Information and Privacy (NGB OIP) has just two full-time employees to process the 379 requests pending as of Jan. 29, 2018, said Houk. 

Houk also elaborated on the reasons why the agency is slow to process records requests. 

In an e-mail, Houk stated, “As required by the FOIA, all requests are queued based on the date they are first received within the executive branch (DoD), not merely the date we first receive the request. This often means a request will get pushed further back in the queue because we get referrals from other DoD agencies for processing that they've been working on for months/years, etc.” 

In the meantime, the family continues to wait for answers from the Ohio National Guard.

“Jeremy has…he's been out, he's been with his family, his friends. My son and his father…they're ashes."

“I find it unacceptable,” Denise Snyder said. “They really don’t care.” 

Jeremy Taylor is currently facing two misdemeanor counts of vehicular manslaughter and two misdemeanor counts of vehicular homicide in Portage County for causing the crash. 

However, Bentley is unconvinced the charges are sufficient.

She wants to know how a routine trip to return a military vehicle to its base at Camp Ravenna turned into a tragedy. 

“Jeremy has…he's been out, he's been with his family, his friends,” Bentley said. “My son and his father…they're ashes."