CHESTER - The Kent Island community is in mourning after a Wednesday afternoon crash claimed the lives of four local teens.
The Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office identified the victims as 19-year-old Tyler Elzey of Prospect Bay, 18-year-old Harrison Rhoades Smith of Chester, 18-year-old Corey Pessagno of Chester and 19-year-old Michael John Ringenbach of Stevensville.
All four were pronounced dead at the scene after the silver, four-door Volkswagen they were in crashed head-on into a dark-colored Ford Focus driven by 73-year-old Eli Dabich Jr. of Chester on Cox Neck Road near Jones Road about 4 p.m. April 10, said Dale Patrick, public information officer for the sheriff’s office.
The VW was headed north on Cox Neck Road, and some witnesses have reported the car crossed the center line as it rounded a curve.
Residents and motorists heard or saw the accident and ran to assist, including two nurses, Patrick said.
Members of the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department were the first to respond.
"Crews arrived to find a serious motor vehicle collision," said Paul Schlotterbeck, second assistant chief for KIVFD. "While working to extricate the victims from the vehicle, crews discovered that one of the victims was a member of our department and that another victim was a former member."
Tyler Elzey had been a member of the department for about a year and a half, Schlotterbeck said. In that time, he had completed over 350 hours of training, including completion of Firefighter I and EMT training, and he was currently enrolled in Firefighter II. Elzey previously volunteered at Church Hill, where his brother Chris Trigg is a member.
"Tyler was living his dream of being a fireman and had recently applied to the Anne Arundel County Fire Department," Schlotterbeck said. "Tyler loved serving his community and was a Maryland State Police Explorer in addition to being a volunteer firefighter."
Ringenbach was a former member at KIVFD, Schlotterbeck said. He joined in 2011 but was not currently active. He, too, was a Maryland State Police Explorer. His brother Richard is an active volunteer with United Communities VFD.
All four teens graduated from Kent Island High School last May, members of the Class of 2012.
Dabich Jr., the only survivor of the crash, was flown by MedEvac helicopter to University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore for treatment. Officials said he was conscious and complaining of chest and back pain. Dabich is a professor at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Dabich Jr. was still listed in serious condition Thursday, said Cynthia Rivers, hospital spokesman.
Father Paul F. Jennings Jr., chaplain for both KIVFD and the sheriff’s office, was on the scene of the crash, helping and providing comfort as he could. He accompanied a deputy to notify families, Patrick said.
A Critical Incident Stress Management team from the Department of Emergency Services came in Wednesday night to help fire department members work through their grief and cope with stress of handling an incident involving four teens, including two of their own, Schlotterbeck said.
The road was closed for four hours so investigators could reconstruct the crash, Patrick said.
By 8 p.m. Wednesday dozens of teens had gathered near the crash scene in an impromptu memorial, and hundreds of messages conveying prayers and sympathy to the families involved had been posted to Facebook. Thursday morning visitors left four bouquets of flowers on the roadside in honor of the boys who died.