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Published: Saturday, 3/3/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Spring break trip turns to disaster on I-75 for BGSU students

Sorority sisters hit head-on by wayward driver; 4 killed

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN AND JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Law enforcement officers carry a suitcase belonging to one of the victims in the I-75 crash into the Bowen-Thompson student Union at Bowling Green State University. Law enforcement officers carry a suitcase belonging to one of the victims in the I-75 crash into the Bowen-Thompson student Union at Bowling Green State University.
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BOWLING GREEN — They'd saved their money, booked their flights, and packed their bags.

Ready for a spring break vacation on the beach, the Bowling Green State University sorority sisters were on their way to Detroit Metro Airport early Friday to catch a 5:30 a.m. flight to the Dominican Republic when their plans were cut tragically short.

The first of two cars, each carrying five Alpha Xi Delta members, swerved to miss a car traveling the wrong way on I-75 just north of Bowling Green, according to the Ohio Highway Patrol.

The second car was not so lucky.

A southbound car driving in the northbound lanes struck Christina Goyett's car head on about 2:15 a.m., killing the driver and two of her passengers, the patrol said.

Two other passengers in her car remained in critical condition Friday night in Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center.

Winifred D. Lein, 69, of Perrysburg Township, who was driving the wrong way on the interstate, according to the patrol, also died in the crash after her car became engulfed in flames.

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The patrol could shed little light on why Lein, who was the only person in the car, was driving the wrong way on the interstate.

She apparently had traveled south in the northbound lanes for at least seven miles, the patrol said, passing numerous vehicles before striking Ms. Goyett's car just south of State Rt. 582 at a spot where the northbound lanes slope downward from a bridge over a railroad track before passing under Devils Hole Road. There is a broad curve in the area.

Attempts to reach relatives and neighbors of Lein were unsuccessful.

"There is nothing those girls could have done," Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said, explaining that because of the crest at the bridge and the curve, reaction time to the oncoming vehicle would have been minimal.

Ms. Goyett, 19, of Bay City, Mich., was pronounced dead at the scene as was Sarah J. Hammond, 21, of Yellow Springs, Ohio, who was seated in the left rear seat. Rebekah M. Blakkolb, 20, of Aurora, Ohio, who was seated in the rear middle seat, was taken to the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio, where she died.

The BGSU students killed in Friday's wrong-way I-75 crash are, from left, Christina Goyett, 19, of Bay City, Mich.; Sarah Hammond, 21, of Yellow Springs, Ohio; and Rebekah Blakkolb, 20, of Aurora, Ohio. The BGSU students killed in Friday's wrong-way I-75 crash are, from left, Christina Goyett, 19, of Bay City, Mich.; Sarah Hammond, 21, of Yellow Springs, Ohio; and Rebekah Blakkolb, 20, of Aurora, Ohio.
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Two other passengers in Ms. Goyett's car — Kayla A. Somoles, 19, of Parma, Ohio, and Angelica J. Mormile, 19, of Garfield Heights, Ohio — were critically injured.

"We are reminded in these times that life is very, very precious," Rodney Rogers, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at Bowling Green State University, said at a news conference. "Tragedies like today you hope never happen."

Lt. Dean Laubacher, commander of the patrol's Bowling Green post, said Ms. Goyett's vehicle was the second of two cars heading north from BGSU.

The first car, driven by Allyson Wert, 21, of Mount Gilead, Ohio, passed the oncoming car before the crash occurred, and stopped on the roadside after the collision.

"I'm sure she saw [the crash], but I'm not sure how she saw it," the lieutenant said.

There were five people in Ms. Wert's car, he said. They went to the crash site, but the lieutenant said those women were quickly taken by troopers from the scene to the sorority house.

Long-planned trip

Terri Seibold of Perrysburg, whose daughter Kristen was in the first car, said the young women -- along with other sorority members who had driven to Michigan earlier for the flight -- had been planning the trip to the resort community of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for some time.

"They packed up their cars and everything and decided to leave around 2 to make sure they had enough time," Mrs. Seibold said.

The wreckage of the cars involved in the wrong-way I-75 crash sit in tow lots Friday. The BGSU students were traveling in the blue sedan, top, while Winifred Lein was driving the other vehicle, bottom, which burst into flames. The wreckage of the cars involved in the wrong-way I-75 crash sit in tow lots Friday. The BGSU students were traveling in the blue sedan, top, while Winifred Lein was driving the other vehicle, bottom, which burst into flames.
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"They didn't even get to the Luckey exit. That's when they came across that person. The driver of Kristen's car swerved quickly out of the way. She didn't hit anything and regained control, but their friends behind didn't."

She said she was struggling to balance the relief that her daughter was alive with the loss the other families were experiencing. Mrs. Seibold said she'd talked with her daughter about safety during her spring break trip, never thinking there would be danger getting there.

"We didn't really even think about getting to the airport. We were thinking about the actual trip," she said.

A previously scheduled Mass at 12:30 p.m. Friday at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Bowling Green was held in honor of those who were killed.

Those in their hometowns were praying as well for the victims' families and the young women who survived.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family. We're just hoping for the best," said Michael Sullivan, an assistant principal at Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio, from which Ms. Mormile had graduated last spring.

The school planned a prayer service at its chapel at 3 p.m. Saturday for Ms. Mormile, a freshman telecommunications major.

All the young women were described as high achievers with lots of friends and high hopes for their futures.

Tony Bacigalupo, principal at John Glenn High School in Bay City, Mich., said Ms. Goyett had stopped at the school office over Christmas break.

"It was a nice chance to catch up with her. She was very excited about the direction of her life and felt things were going great," he recalled.

Ms. Goyett, a sophomore education major and 2010 John Glenn graduate, wanted to be a teacher.

"She was a great girl, very energetic," Mr. Bacigalupo said. "She was involved in swimming. She was involved in student senate -- an excellent student who worked very hard, very conscientious. She really brought a lot to school."

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READ MORE: Wrong way on I-75

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This accident was the latest in a string of similar tragedies. State transportation officials should take action, however imperfect, to prevent more such deaths.

READ MORE: Gone in an instant

Wrong-way reports

Lieutenant Laubacher said at the afternoon news conference that troopers were unsure where Lein was going at the time or how fast she was traveling.

One of four northbound motorists who called 911 to report the wrong-way driver said, "Going real slow, but he's there on the berm heading south on the northbound side."

A truck driver was the first to call 911 at 2:10 a.m. when the wrong-way driver was near the U.S. 20/23 interchange at Perrysburg.

"He's going southbound on the northbound," he said. "He almost ran into me and about five, six other cars."

Lieutenant Laubacher said Trooper Phil Mohre, who had been dispatched to look for the wrong-way vehicle, witnessed the crash. The lieutenant said Trooper Mohre saw Lein's vehicle pass him to the left, then he attempted to follow behind her while driving the wrong way with his lights and sirens activated.

After the crash, the engine area of Lein's car caught on fire.

Lieutenant Laubacher said Trooper Mohre used an extinguisher to douse the flames twice, but each time, the fire reignited.

The third time a fire broke out, the trooper's extinguisher was empty. Several truck drivers also stopped and attempted to put out the blaze.

Troopers said both drivers and the front-seat passenger in Ms. Goyett's car wore seat belts, although the three young women in back did not.

Campus reaction

Word of the early morning crash spread quickly through campus and reached far beyond through social media.

Bowling Green State University students gather outside the Alpha Xi Delta sorority house Friday after three members of the sorority were killed in a crash on I-75 north of Bowling Green. Bowling Green State University students gather outside the Alpha Xi Delta sorority house Friday after three members of the sorority were killed in a crash on I-75 north of Bowling Green.
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On Twitter, before the names of the young women were released, students and well-wishers from across the country sent prayers, thoughts, and condolences to the family and friends affected.

Sorority Row, a stretch of all-brick residences, was quiet on Friday. Students passed slowly and quietly past the Alpha Xi Delta house. Only a few women emerged from the house to meet friends outside to hug, to talk, to cry.

Several women who sat outside on the front porch declined to comment. Another woman said the sorority sisters had been told not to talk to media and not to post on Twitter or Facebook about the crash.

VIEW: Alpha Xi Delta statement on Facebook

Elysia Balster Gallivan, national director of Alpha Xi Delta, said the sorority was offering counselors and other support.

"It is very, very tragic," she said. "We're saddened and devastated and trying to work with the university to provide the support the families need at this time, the support our members need."

Garrett Gilmer, director of the university's Counseling Center, said a counselor had been at the sorority house since 4:30 a.m. Friday, and stayed for the rest of the day.

Counselors are to be available to students throughout spring break and will check on the sorority members when students return from spring break.

"It's not going to be quick healing," Mr. Gilmer said.

Ms. Hammond, a BGSU junior majoring in apparel merchandising, graduated from Greenon High School in Springfield, Ohio, in 2009.

She was remembered by longtime guidance counselor Don Dunstan as a very good student who was involved in the school's vocational agriculture program, showed horses at the county fair, and was a cheerleader all four years of high school.

Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Dean Laubacher talks about the crash Friday during a news conference on the BGSU campus. Behind him is Rodney Rogers, BGSU senior vice-president for academic affairs and provost. Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Dean Laubacher talks about the crash Friday during a news conference on the BGSU campus. Behind him is Rodney Rogers, BGSU senior vice-president for academic affairs and provost.
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"If you're picturing someone who's bubbly and vivacious and everyone's friend and popular and the center of everything that went on -- that's her," Mr. Dunstan said.

Ms. Blakkolb, a 2009 graduate of Aurora High School, was a junior at BGSU majoring in tourism, leisure, and event planning.

Mike Roberto, principal at Aurora High, said he was assistant principal when Ms. Blakkolb was at the school but didn't see her often "because she didn't get into trouble."

"She was someone who stands out, who was always smiling," he recalled.

"She was in show choir. She was quiet but had a lot of friends, of course kind and respectful. Her loss will be hard on a lot of people because she did have a lot of friends."

Ms. Somoles is a sophomore majoring in middle childhood education.

BGSU President Mary Ellen Mazey was out of town Friday but issued a statement saying, "We're shocked and deeply saddened by this tragic news. Our hearts go out to the families, friends, and sorority sisters of these young women."

The crash occurred 10 years after a group of BGSU students was killed returning from a spring break trip to Florida.

Six 19-year-olds -- including one from Perrysburg and two from Erie County -- were killed when their minivan crossed an I-71 median in northern Kentucky and hit a tractor-trailer. They were on their way home from Panama City, Fla., when they were traveling in a heavy rain and windstorm in Boone County, about 25 miles south of Cincinnati.

— Blade staff writer David Patch contributed to this report.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at" tdungjen@theblade.com or 419-724-6054. Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.


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