'Especially tragic' crash claims 3 Greene teens

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 10:28 a.m.

Tom Miller had money in his pocket and planned to spend it with his friends in Washington when, in an instant, everything changed.

“I looked at my friend, and then the next thing I knew, we were over the median,” said Miller, 17, of Waynesburg, one of three teenagers who survived an SUV crash that killed three of their friends and a motorcyclist.

“I just grabbed the back of the seat and held on.”

The Mitsubishi Outlander traveled over the hilly median from northbound Interstate 79 in Greene County to the southbound lane, glancing off a camper before landing on its roof and striking a motorcycle Wednesday afternoon. When the Outlander stopped, a seat belt held Miller in place.

“For a second, I didn't know what to do,” he said Thursday at his home. “I saw my buddy climb out the back and I followed him out. I was in shock. I felt like I had a little bit of shoulder pain.”

He had a broken collarbone and road rash on his leg. Even before an ambulance took him from the scene of twisted vehicles, he knew some of his friends wouldn't survive. The driver, Cullin Frazer, 18, of Waynesburg, and passengers Benjamin Hardy, 18, of Waynesburg, and Byron Kerr, 18, of Carmichaels died.

“I saw all that,” he said. “I couldn't cry. I honestly did not know what to do.”

Police identified the motorcyclist as Michael Cohen, 47, of Oshawa, Canada. A passenger on the bike, Sandra Cohen, 48, of Oshawa, suffered moderate injuries. Two of Miller's friends, Justin Gillogly, 16, and Joseph Lilley, 18, both of Waynesburg, were hospitalized with minor injuries.

Miller, a senior at Jefferson Morgan High School, said he met the other teens through a mutual friend and they fell in together quickly. On Wednesday, they cashed paychecks at a Wal-Mart and were heading to the mall.

“I want people to know they didn't deserve this,” Miller said. “They were great friends. We were always there for each other.”

State police reconstruction specialists were trying to determine what caused the wreck near the Ruff Creek exit in Washington Township, Trooper Bart Lemansky said.

It's unclear how fast Frazer was driving, Lemansky said. Police did not find anything at the scene to indicate drugs or alcohol were a factor. Although they found several cellphones in the vehicle, they must search phone records to determine whether they played a role, he said.

“Most of us here are parents so when this kind of tragedy involves young people, it's hard not to be human about it,” Lemansky said. “Three teenagers at the same time is especially tragic.”

Relatives of those who died could not be reached or declined comment.

“I just thank God my son is alive, but it's hard because I have some guilt for those parents whose kids didn't make it,” said Miller's mother, Jamie Snyder. “I just could not imagine. For some reason, my son had that guardian angel.”

The three friends often met up for “car club” at a parking lot for a shuttered Shop 'n Save. Thursday evening, hundreds of friends and relatives gathered there to play music and share photos, stories and their grief.

“This is killing me,” said Mandi Burns, 17, who was dating Kerr. “It's so sad.”

Each teen loved to laugh and make others laugh, friends said.

“They liked to pull pranks with each other,” said Kayla Richardson, 18, who dated Frazer for nearly five years. “They got into a lot of trouble.”

Maranda Roach, 18, said Hardy, her boyfriend, loved grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate milk, and hated scary movies.

“We watched ‘Paranormal Activity 3,' and he was in my lap,” she said. He also was a jokester, she said.

“He always did something to make someone laugh,” Roach said. “He used to throw spitballs at the wall in choir. They're still there — it's been a year.”

Kerr was always up for a trip to “car club,” where the boys would hang out, talk and plan their next outing.

“They were all like brothers,” Burns said. “Hanging out with his friends was his favorite thing to do. He was always doing something.”

Administrators at Waynesburg Central High School brought in grief counselors as staff and 600 students mourned the deaths. Hardy graduated from the school, and Kerr was a former classmate. Frazer once attended West Greene High School.

“It's a tough day for everybody,” Waynesburg Principal Dave Mason said. “Everybody is really down, but we're trying to keep it as routine as possible.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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