It's a story full of tragedy: 5 teenagers--all good kids--involved in a deadly car accident. A local school board member is accused of chasing them into the crash.
The accident that happened nearly two years ago has shattered dozens of lives. There was no alcohol involved, and all the kids were wearing their seatbelts. But an instant of bad judgement started a series of events that changed all their lives.
For the first time, the teen driver is talking about that deadly encounter and offering a lesson to all of us who get behind the wheel.
Like many freshman at the University of Toledo, Austin Oberle is trying to prepare for his future, but he can't do it without keeping an eye on his past: a car accident that changed his life forever.
Austin told News 11's Chrys Peterson, "It's still fresh. It's two years later, and it's still in my head every single day."
He had just finished his junior year at Whitmer high school. He was an honor student who played on the baseball team. His best friend was classmate and teammate Charlie Fackleman. Austin said, "He's one of those kids you want to be around all the time."
The boys were part of a larger group of friends called the CG crew. On the night of the accident, in June of 2006, five of those friends decided to go for a ride. Austin was driving with his friend Carl Ziegler in the front seat, and Charlie, Stevie Beale and Ashley Roth in the back. The kids were just having fun when Charlie threw a plastic water bottle out the window and hit another car.
Austin said, "It wasn't something...it's never happened before....It was stupid."
That stupid mistake set off a life-changing chain of events because the car they hit turned around and started chasing them.
"There was a lot of noise in the car," Austin explained, "Every body's like, oh crap he's coming...he's chasing us. A lot of panic... everybody was scared."
Ashley said, "I saw the end of the road coming up, and I felt the car jerk and all of a sudden that was it."
It was late. It was dark. At the intersection of Clegg and Whiteford Center Roads, Austin says his brakes failed. He blew through a stop sign and hit a tree. Charlie and Stevie were unconscious. "I helped Charlie out of the car," Austin said, "I undid his seatbelt and got him out of the car. Stevie was the only one who remained in the car, but she was just laying there not making any noise or anything and I didn't know what to do."
Within minutes, emergency crews were rushing all five kids to the hospital. Austin was most worried about Stevie. He knew right away her injuries were bad, but paramedics indicated Charlie would be ok. At the hospital, they learned Charlie didn't make it.
"Charlie's gone," said Austin, "Stevie's paralyzed from her waist down, and I came out of it with a stiff neck."
Chrys Peterson asked, "Do you feel guilty about that?"
"Yes, I do. I always look back and think, 'Why didn't something happen to me? Why couldn't I have taken some of what happened to Stevie or Charlie?' It doesn't make sense. Why did they suffer so much, and I'm still myself today?"
Ashley said "I don't think that there's one person to point fingers at. Everyone in my perspective... everyone played a role in that accident."
But only one person was driving the car that night, and Austin took responsibility in court, pleading guilty to felonious driving and involuntary manslaughter. During his sentencing, Austin faced Charlie's parents, and his once dear friend, Stevie Beale. He apologized for his role in the accident.
He served 3 1/2 months in jail, and is still serving three years probation. His two felony convictions mean Austin can't pursue a career as a doctor, so he's working on plan B.
Charlie Fackleman's father has told Austin he doesn't blame him for Charlie's death. Stevie Beale has said she's still too angry to forgive right now, and Austin understands that. Two years later, he still hasn't forgiven himself.
"You can't ever bring back Charlie," he said. "The only thing I have going for me is one day when I pass away, the way I believe, I hope to see Charlie someday."
Chrys asked Austin, "How do you think he will greet you?"
"I don't know. Hopefully with a baseball and baseball mitt and start the day off good playing a little bit of catch there."
Randy Krell, the Bedford school board member convicted of chasing the teens, was sentenced to nine months in jail for his role in the crash.
Charlie Fackleman's father was convicted two weeks ago for an incident where he confronted Randy Krell with a gun about the accident that killed his son. He'll be sentenced next week.
The ripple effects of that one split-second decision are so far-reaching, and that's why Austin wanted to talk about the accident...to make people really think twice on the road.
Posted by LS