BATAVIA TOWNSHIP -- The hallways were quiet Tuesday, students walking to and from classes with blank expressions. Then friends of the Lowery and Smith boys passed each other, and silence melted into embraces.
From the somber mood at Amelia High School following a Monday car crash that killed two freshmen and injured the older brother of one, there emerged an overwhelming support system. There was support for 15-year-olds Steven Lowery and Justin Smith, who will be buried this week; for Steven's brother, Roy, 17, who was driving the car and is now recovering at home. And for each other.
"Their biggest support system is themselves, and we're just here to facilitate that," said Randy Siler of Clermont County Educational Services, co-coordinator of the dozen grief counselors available to students Tuesday.
The library where the counselors gathered also became a shrine to the boys, a canvas of letters and drawings that -- unbeknownst to the students who made them -- was a source of strength to the boys' parents at their Union Township homes.
"Is that right?" a grateful Sharon Heim, mother of the Lowery boys, said when told of the notes, many expressing sympathy for Roy. She searched for words to thank them -- to ease their pain -- but broke down in tears without saying a word.
Mrs. Heim said Roy, who was treated for minor injuries at Clermont Mercy Hospital and released, might return to school Friday or Monday. The school day that began with a moment of silence and a lowering of the flag ended with many students driving out of the parking lot wearing their seat belts. The boys were not wearing theirs when their 1986 Pontiac Firebird collided with a school bus Monday morning at Ohio 222 and Mount Holly Road, just a few miles from the school. Meanwhile, in a kitchen filled with relatives, friends and food, Dave and Jill Smith said they had told their son, Justin, repeatedly to wear his seat belt. "It's not cool," they recalled him once explaining. They wanted to implore other teens to wear theirs every time.
And they said they have no animosity toward Roy or the Lowerys. Leaning forward, Mr. Smith said, "I pray for that boy."
Clermont County Prosecutor Don White said Tuesday charges will be filed against Roy, but that there was no indication of aggravated recklessness in the initial police summary that would substantiate felony charges. The case, he said, would begin as a juvenile offense. "We just need to get these kids to slow down," he said.
Visitation for both teens will be 5 to 9 p.m. today in E.C. Nurre Funeral Home, 177 W. Main St. in Amelia. The service will be 10 a.m. Thursday for Justin and noon for Steven at the funeral home. Justin will be buried in Pierce Township Cemetery; Steven in Williamsburg Cemetery.|
In another development, state and county officials said there is concern about a line of trees at the crash site that obscures the line of sight of north and southbound motorists on Ohio 222.
The trees are located just before a sign alerting motorists to yield to southbound Ohio 222 drivers before continuing straight onto Mount Holly Road. It is a sign police say Roy Lowery didn't heed.
Donna Kluba, who with her husband, Edward, owns the land there, said they were told the trees are on the state right of way.
"If they are on our property, I don't care if they (the state) take them out. They can take any of the trees in that tree line," Mrs. Kluba said.
Bill Vorst, transportation technician for the Ohio Department of Transportation's District office in Lebanon, said his office plans to discuss removing the trees. He said ODOT also will improve signs alerting motorists on Ohio 222 to approaching curves.
In the past 10 years, ODOT records show, there have been 15 accidents at the intersection, but only two since 1994, Mr. Vorst said. Of those, four have involved injuries. There had been no fatalities until Monday, Mr. Vorst said.
"It's a reality check, man," said Amelia High junior Mike Gentry, who is in Roy Lowery's English class. "It's definitely a reality check."
Walt Schaefer contributed to this report.