Greene County students mourn I-79 crash victims

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Three Greene County teens who were killed in a violent crash on Interstate 79 on Wednesday were being mourned in their hometowns Thursday, especially in the schools they recently attended.

"The first thing that comes to mind is how charismatic he was," Thelma Szarell, superintendent of the small West Greene School District, said about 18-year-old Cullin Frazer of Waynesburg. "He was a likable young man."

Although Mr. Frazer dropped out of high school last year before he could graduate with the district's 260 other seniors, Ms. Szarell said his twin sister, Chelsea, graduated.

Almost every corner of the rural county seemed affected by the tragedy, which state police are still trying to piece together.

According to witnesses, Mr. Frazer was driving a 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander northbound on the interstate at about 4:30 p.m. with five of his friends when he inexplicably veered to the left, crossing a grassy median and a small mound which launched the vehicle airborne and into oncoming traffic in the southbound lanes, near mile marker 21, between the Marianna and Ruff Creek exits.

As the SUV rolled down the median, it struck a camper containing a couple from Maryland and a motorcycle driven by Michael Cohen, 47, of Oshawa, Canada.

Mr. Cohen died at the scene and his passenger, Sandra Cohen, 48, was taken to the hospital.

The Maryland couple were uninjured.

Mr. Frazer died at the scene, along with two of his passengers, Benjamin Hardy, 18, of Waynesburg, and Bryon Kerr, 18, of Carmichaels.

The injured passengers are 16-year-olds Justin Gillogly and Thomas Miller, and Joseph Lilley, 18, all of Waynesburg.

Grief counselors and school psychologists were on hand Thursday at the West Greene and Waynesburg Central high schools, where several of the young men had recently graduated or were still enrolled as students.

One of those killed was a student at Waynesburg Central, along with two teens who survived the accident, said school principal Dave Mason.

"The students were popular," said Mr. Mason, who declined to discuss individual students, citing privacy concerns.

Most of the 600 students at the school had already heard about the accident before classes began Thursday morning, he said, through word-of-mouth, texting and social media sites, like Facebook.

"The whole atmosphere of the school is a tragedy," he said. "Kids are clearly upset about it. A lot of them needed to talk to someone and that's our priority -- to get them the counseling they need."

Ms. Szarell agreed, saying students at West Greene availed themselves of counselors throughout the day.

"This has had a tremendous impact on everybody," she said. "Kids have been expressing sentiments for the [Frazer] family. My heart goes out to that family."

Police have spoken to at least one of the surviving teens, none of whom was wearing a seat belt. It has not been determined whether those who died were wearing seat belts.

"We're awaiting reconstruction of the accident and that can take some time. As far as speed, as far as alcohol, drug use, that won't be available this soon," Trooper Barton Lemansky said.

There was no immediate sign of the use of intoxicants, he added.

Mr. Frazer had a valid driver's license with no restrictions, Trooper Lemansky said.

The vehicle was up to date on its inspection and there was no obvious sign of mechanical problems in the mangled wreckage, but Trooper Lemansky said it would undergo a thorough review.

Ms. Szarell said she hoped other students would take away a lesson from the tragedy.

"It's so traumatic because these were young, young individuals losing their life so early," she said. "I hope everybody thinks about how short life is and thinks about things when they get out on the highway."

neigh_washington

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867. Jonathan D. Silver: jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.


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