By Jane Ernsberger
Times-Junction News Editor
Students at South Central High School got a dose of reality following a mock crash where one student died and her boyfriend, who was driving, was drunk.
Huron County Common Pleas Judge James Conway presided over the mock trial of Chandler Gray. After agreeing to plead guilty to one count of misdemeanor driving under the influence, and one count of felony aggravated vehicular homicide, he was before Conway for sentencing.
In order to bring a sense of realism to the situation, Gray appeared before the judge in a jail jumpsuit and in handcuffs and shackles. As Conway asked him if he understood what was happening to him, including the fact he was not eligible for an early release because the vehicular homicide carried a mandatory prison sentence, Gray solemnly answered, “Yes,”
Conway said Gray was facing a mandatory jail term of three to 180 days in jail and a mandatory fine of $250 up to $1,000 on the misdemeanor. Gray learned he would lose his license because of a mandatory suspension for at least six months and up to three years.
“In addition,” Conway told Gray, “you are pleading to guilty to count two, aggravated vehicular homicide, for which you face a mandatory prison sentence of two years up to eight years, a fine of up to $15,000 and mandatory license suspension of three years up to a lifetime.”
For many students, they were not aware of what happens to a person convicted of a felony. Conway said a conviction meant Gray would lose some of his civil rights.
“Those rights include the right to vote,” Conway pointed out. “They include the right to hold office, possess a firearm, work as a public employee, serve on a jury and, in some instances, may result in the denial of certain professional licenses. Under federal law, you can never possess a firearm if you have been convicted of a felony.”
Some of those rights, Conway pointed out, can be restored to Gray, but only after he has completed his jail sentence.
When Conway accepted the guilty plea, the case against Gray was reviewed. On April 19 at around 1:45 a.m., some seniors met at Grey’s house for a prom after-party.
Gray had been drinking and was taking his girlfriend, Hannah Vogel home. In addition to the alcohol in his system, Gray was not paying attention to the road because he was texting a few friends who had been at the party with the couple.
A friend in another vehicle began to race Gray. Both boys sped up past the school and were heading into Greenwich while racing each other.
Gray told police he saw the lights flashing for the oncoming train but thought he could beat it. His car was hit by the train on Vogel’s side of the car, ejecting both of them.
His friend’s car came up behind them and hit the side of the train when he couldn’t stop in time.
Before finding out his fate, Gray had to listen to statements from some of his friends who had been involved.
“I lost my friend,” said Rebecca Starkey. “She can’t be replaced. I had to walk over her body at the accident, and I felt her in my own arms.
“I understand that accidents happen,” she added. “And Chandler is also my friend. But, he took his girlfriend’s life and that’s something none of us will ever get back. He is the reason all of us are here today.”
Starkey said she was requesting Gray get the maximum sentence of eight years in prison.
Alexis Whitright also talked about the aftermath of the crash but did it from a wheelchair.
“As a result of this accident, I will have to spend the rest of my life in this wheelchair,” Whitright said. “I had huge plans for myself as a college athlete. I was going to be a cheerleader and run track in college, and now none of that matters.
“I will have to return back to the hospital every week to receive spinal injections for the nerve damage that was done,” she added. “I realize in the moment, we were just having fun. But, it ended up causing severe permanent damage that will effect me for the rest of my life, as well as killing his girlfriend.”
Not everyone was in favor of Gray receiving the maximum for his part in the fatal crash.
Haley Kluge spoke about her friend, Gray.
“This was all an honest mistake,” Kluge said. “Chandler would never do something like this on purpose. He wasn’t the only one drinking and texting.
“This could happen to any of us,” she pointed out. “I have been friends with Chandler since we were little. I know Chandler feels awful for everything that has happened. I understand we can’t replace Hannah, and that will live with me for the rest of her life, but Chandler made one bad decision after another.”
Another impact statement was given by the father of the dead student. He spoke of the loss to the family and what the future will not hold for them.
The prosecutor and defense attorney, along with the students in the mock crash and trial were all students at South Central High School and members of the SADD chapter.
Conway said there are factors to consider in every felony case. In this tragedy, the crash meant the tragic death of Vogel. Her family and friends will have to deal with the serious psychological and emotional harm, as well as a financial loss.
Not only was Gray drag racing, Conway pointed out, but he was drinking and driving and texting.
As he faced the court, made up of SADD members, and the student body of South Central High School, Gray was sentenced by Conway to 180 days in prison and a $250 fine for the driving charge.
Gray was also sentenced to five years in prison on the second degree felony charge of aggravated vehicular homicide. His driver’s license was suspended for life.
The 100 days in “jail” Gray had already served waiting for his trial was applied to his five years in prison. Conway said that shortened his prison time by a little. Gray was then released into the custody of the sheriff.
Gray did express his remorse over what happened on that prom night.
“I’m sorry everyone,” he said. “I truly an. It’s hard to believe that Hannah’s gone, but it’s even harder to believe that ti’s all my fault.
“This is something that I am going to have to live with for the rest of my life,” Gray pointed out. “and, no punishment can be worse than what I’ve already done.
“I pledge to never drink again,” Gray said, “and share my story once I’m out of prison and tell everyone I know to never make this kind of mistake. I’m so sorry. I can’t say it enough. I’m so sorry.”The mock crash and trial was a joint effort between the Huron County Sheriff’s Office, the SADD chapter at South Central High School and local law enforcement agencies, first responders and members of the community. Lt. Terry Shean of the Huron County Sheriff’s Office and South Central teacher and SADD advisor Bridgit Lacey coordinated the event.