By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MIDDLETOWN - They were 11 high school sports fanatics who loved having fun and banded together as the self-proclaimed "Professional Tailgaters' League."
Friday should have been their ultimate celebration as they graduated from Bishop Fenwick High School.
Instead, the day became a testimonial to the depth of the group's friendship as they attended funerals for traffic crash victims Kyle Babcock and Barry Kilker just hours before graduation.
Shelly Rouster of Middletown holds a photo of her son Peter.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
The teenagers also managed to laugh a little because Babcock and Kilker would have wanted them to, they said.
"They were like the light of the room, basically, and they would want people to move on and be happy because that was how they lived their lives: happy," said fellow tailgate league member Matt Smith.
Smith was among six of the group's members who traveled to the Deerfield Resort just north of Knoxville, Tenn., earlier this week for a few days of recreation before Friday's graduation ceremony. But Smith stayed behind when Babcock and Kilker accompanied classmates Peter Rouster and Rob Kreke to get some hamburgers late Monday.
The foursome - with Kreke driving and Rouster as front-seat passenger - were in a Jeep CJS when it went off a rural road and flipped down a 20-foot hillside. Rouster and Kreke survived the crash, which authorities are investigating.
Rouster's mother, Shelly, takes issue with news reports that implied alcohol may have been a factor in the crash. She said she is confident the teens were not drinking at the time of the crash.
The teens left for the resort, where Kreke's mother owns a house, late Sunday and arrived at about 2:30 a.m. Monday. "Then," Rouster said, "they played cornhole all night until the sun came up."
The teens spent Monday swimming and boating.
But at about 10 p.m., they were hungry and piled into the 1979 Jeep that was kept at the lake house for errands. Smith and friend Kenny Trimbach stayed behind.
Kreke drove about 35 minutes to a Sonic drive-in for a bag of burgers. On the drive back and just two miles from the house, the Jeep rounded a curve and its tire slipped off the road. The vehicle flipped repeatedly.
"The last thing my son remembers is the headlights flashing on the tops of the trees," Rouster said. Her son, she said, was unconscious for a period of time. Realizing their friends were seriously injured or possibly dead, Kreke pulled Rouster up the hill and sought help, she said.
The teens had a cell phone, but they could not get a signal near the crash. A passing motorist stopped and drove the teens to the lake house where they called police to report the accident.
Police interviews and anguish followed, she said.
After the teens returned to their Ohio homes, they and several friends tried to convince Kreke that there likely wasn't anything he could have done to avoid the crash.
"They slept on the floor around his bed the first two nights, to make sure he was all right,'' she said. "Robbie never would have done anything to harm Pete, Kyle or Barry. His grief is inconsolable."
Weeks before the crash, Pete Rouster remarked to his mom that Fenwick students had been spared in the spate of fatal teen car crashes in Greater Cincinnati.
"Now that I've been through this," she said, "I know those crashes are so much more than statistics. I know how much we are hurting - and my kid walked out of one."
As the teens prepared to head for their graduation ceremonies - for 119 students instead of 121 - they said the day had been tough beyond compare.
The students said they missed their two friends.
But senior Peter Robertson added: "They'll be with us. They always will."
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