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Published: Tuesday, 3/6/2012

DEADLY I-75 CRASH

Brother thinks wrong-way driver became disoriented

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ron Merrill says drivers his age and that of his sister Winifred D. Lein, 69, aren’t as sharp as they used to be. He said that, although he and his sister hadn’t been close for about 15 years, he knew Lein didn’t drink, and that she was a hard worker. Ron Merrill says drivers his age and that of his sister Winifred D. Lein, 69, aren’t as sharp as they used to be. He said that, although he and his sister hadn’t been close for about 15 years, he knew Lein didn’t drink, and that she was a hard worker.
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BOWLING GREEN — While investigators continue to try to piece together the events that led to a wrong-way crash on I-75, some family members of the Perrysburg Township woman who drove in the wrong direction say they too have many questions.

Ron Merrill of Weston, the older brother of Winifred Dawn Lein, 69, said Monday he suspects that just as he’s not as sharp behind the wheel as he used to be, perhaps his sister became confused when she got onto the interstate going the wrong way. Lein died in the crash.

“When you get to this age — and I’m a little older than she was — you have to be very careful when you’re driving anymore,” he said. “You don’t have the reflexes. You do get disoriented.”

In addition to Lein, three Bowling Green State University sorority sisters were killed, and two other students were critically injured in the head-on collision, which occurred Friday after, authorities say, Lein drove at least seven miles in the wrong direction.

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

Kayla A. Somoles, 19, of Parma, Ohio, and Angelica J. Mormile, 19, of Garfield Heights, Ohio, were taken to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center after the 2:15 a.m. crash north of Bowling Green. They both remained in critical condition Monday, a hospital spokesman said.

The deceased and injured BGSU students and Alpha Xi Delta members were on their way to Detroit Metro Airport to catch a flight to the Dominican Republic for spring break. Before the head-on crash, a car with five other sorority sisters avoided colliding with Lein, who was southbound in the northbound lanes.

Autopsy findings on Miss Goyett and Lein are not expected for “six to eight weeks,” according to the office of Wood County Coroner Dr. Douglas Hess. Among other issues to be reviewed, Dr. Hess is awaiting results of toxicology tests on the two drivers.

An autopsy on Miss Hammond showed that she died accidentally because of multiple blunt force injuries, his office said Monday.

Sgt. Nathan Henn of the Ohio Highway Patrol’s Bowling Green post said investigators have been in contact with Lein’s family to determine whether she had any medical issues that might have contributed to the crash.

Ada Merrill talks about her sister-in-law, Winifred D. Lein, the woman who collided head on with a group of Bowling Green State University students north of Bowling Green on I-75. Ada Merrill talks about her sister-in-law, Winifred D. Lein, the woman who collided head on with a group of Bowling Green State University students north of Bowling Green on I-75.
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They are checking her work schedule and record and trying to find out whether Lein can be seen on surveillance video from nearby gas stations where she might have stopped before driving the wrong way on I-75. “Maybe that would help us determine what exit and what time she got on,” the sergeant said.

Mr. Merrill, 78, said he hadn’t been in regular contact with his sister for about 15 years. He kept track of her through her daughter, making sure he knew where his sister was and that she was getting along all right.

“I thought about a year or so ago I should probably call her up or go down and check with her, but I didn’t,” he said. “Something like this happens, it makes you wonder, maybe I should have.”

Mr. Merrill said Lein didn’t drink. He said she was a hard worker employed at a variety of factory jobs over the years and later worked for the city utilities department in Pickerington, Ohio.

She worked in the wastewater treatment plant and later went to work for a private company that took care of wastewater at Jeep, he said.

“She would do about anything ,” he said.

Lein worked in a contract capacity at the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex but was not a Chrysler Group LLC employee, said Jodi Tinson, a spokesman for the automaker.

Ms. Tinson declined to say what Lein did at the complex. She did not know if Lein had worked at Toledo Jeep that night, and she had no other information, she said.

Mr. Merrill described his sister as a loner, an independent person who didn’t want anyone doing anything for her. He said she was deeply affected by their father’s death in an auto accident near Bowling Green when she was still a teenager.

Mr. Merrill and his wife, Ada, said Lein had taken care of her funeral arrangements a year ago and did not want an obituary published or a memorial service held.

A former relative of Lein’s said in an email to The Blade that Lein must have been confused.

Mary Lein Rawlins, who identified herself in the email as Lein’s former sister-in-law, extended her condolences and prayers to the families of the three dead college students and the two injured women.

“The family of Dawn Lein would like everyone to know they are sending their sympathy and prayers to the families of the three girls and prayers to the families of the two girls in the hospital,” Ms. Lein Rawlins wrote.

“If you knew Dawn, you would know what a kind-hearted woman she was. She had just got off from [work] at 1:47 and somehow got confused getting on the highway. Dawn, even though she and my brother were divorced, she was, and will always be, a sister to me.”

The email does not state where she thinks Lein got on the highway.

One of Lein’s neighbors at Concord Square Apartments, Betty Kudlica, said Lein was a motherly woman who was friendly and rarely had visitors. Ms. Kudlica said Lein was thoughtful, even replacing an outside light bulb near her apartment, and didn’t seem to be someone who would want to hurt anyone.

Mr. Merrill said it’s a shame he and his sister did not reconnect before her death. “The door was open, but neither one of us went through it,” he said. “Even though we’re as different as night and day in a lot of ways, we’re still brother and sister.”

Funeral arrangements for the three girls are:

  • Visitation for Rebekah Blakkolb was held from 1-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. Monday at the Kindrich-McHugh Steinbauer Funeral Home in Solon. Her funeral is to be Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Fellowship Bible Church, 16391 Chillicothe Rd., Chagrin Falls.
  • Visitation for Christina Goyett is Tuesday from 3-8 p.m. at the Penzion-Steele Funeral Home, 608 N. Madison Ave., Bay City, Mich. Her funeral is to be Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Zion Lutheran Church, 510 W. Ivy St., Bay City.
  • Visitation for Sarah Hammond is Tuesday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Littleton and Rue Funeral Home, 830 N. Limestone St., Springfield, Ohio. Her funeral is to be Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1801 St. Paris Pike, Springfield.

Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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