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Thursday, January 29,2004

Teens' fatal crash stuns classmates; role of alcohol investigated

By Athens NEWS Staff
School officials in the Athens and Alexander school districts prepared for more than just teaching this week, as they also planned to try to help their students deal with the shock and sadness of last...

School officials in the Athens and Alexander school districts prepared for more than just teaching this week, as they also planned to try to help their students deal with the shock and sadness of last weekend's car accident that killed two Athens County teenagers.
And while school officials are helping with the emotional impact of the accident, law enforcement officials are investigating what happened and trying to decide if anyone should be charged with a crime.
The one-car accident occurred in Waterloo Township Saturday night at around 9:20 on Ohio Rt. 681 near the Ohio Rt. 356 intersection. Killed in the accident were Maggie J. Tabler, 16, of Albany, and Olivia G. Sole, 14, of Athens. Jana Miller, 16, of Albany, who was driving the car, was treated and released from O'Bleness Memorial Hospital that night.
While Tabler attended Alexander High School, Sole attended Athens Middle School. Miller is a student at Athens High School.
Sgt. Richard Meadows of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said Tuesday that the crash is still being investigated. While earlier reports from the Highway Patrol stated that alcohol was a factor in the accident, Meadows said only that alcohol is ""suspected"" of being involved in the accident.
The Columbus Dispatch reported on Tuesday that ""bottles of liquor"" were found in the car. No local law enforcement officials would confirm this for attribution, but one did confirm anonymously that the Dispatch report was accurate in that bottles of alcohol were found in the car.
The Highway Patrol investigation will continue for a few weeks, depending on how long it takes to get results back from laboratory tests, Meadows said. After the results are back, the Patrol will present its information to Athens County Prosecutor C. David Warren, who will decide if any charges should be filed.
Warren said on Wednesday that the lab tests, which are being run to determine how much, if any, alcohol was involved in the crash, will be finished in a few weeks. After that time, his office will decide if charges should be filed against Miller, who was driving the car.
If the tests indicate that alcohol was a factor, he said, his office will also consider filing charges against anyone who supplied the alcohol that contributed to the accident and/or anyone who may have sold the alcohol to underage individuals.
Warren could not comment on the specifics of the case, but he did say that in cases where fatalities occur in a vehicle accident and someone is suspected of being responsible, charges can range from vehicular manslaughter to aggravated vehicular homicide. He added that if he does file any charges, the case will go to juvenile court, where the court system has more latitude than the adult court system in how to handle such cases.
As for charging anyone besides the driver, Warren said that because alcohol is suspected to have been involved in the accident, law enforcement officers are ""very seriously looking"" at anyone who might have provided the teenagers with alcohol at a party or anywhere else, and at anyone who sold the alcohol for the party or gathering to a minor.
The people in the investigation are being cooperative, and Warren said he hopes the investigation can be completed in a few weeks.
WHILE THE INVESTIGATION continues for law enforcement, the family and friends are dealing with the pain of the loss of the teenagers.
School officials in the Athens and Alexander districts have stated they will make counselors available to their students, but the Athens district did not have school on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday due to the winter weather.
The Alexander schools were open on Tuesday, and school counselors, as well as counselors from Tri-County Mental Health and Counseling Services, were on hand for the students.
Lillian Mitchell, school psychologist at Alexander High School, said that at the beginning of the school day on Tuesday, the high school students all went to their homerooms where teachers and counselors talked about the accident (in order to inform anyone who might not have known yet), and they asked the students to share their feelings.
It's normal for people to feel shock, sadness, anger and denial when dealing with a tragedy such as this one, Mitchell said. Many of the students were emotional, and the teachers and counselors told them it was good to talk about their feelings and let their grief out, she added.
""For many of them, this may be their first personal loss,"" she said. ""They are just very shocked that it happened and very sad. It's good for them to be able to talk about it with each other.""
After adults and students finished talking about the situation in the homerooms, the school day went on as usual, though counselors were available to students throughout the day, Mitchell said.
""We keep an open door,"" she said. The counselors will make themselves available for as long as the students want to talk about the situation, and they are always there to help students, Mitchell said.
In addition to helping the students, it was also important to help some of the teachers, Mitchell added. Before school started on Tuesday, the counselors held a meeting with the teachers and staff to talk to them about the accident, since many of them were very upset, too, and to give them advice on how they could help students dealing with the loss.
The teachers and counselors worked together to help the students, Mitchell said. Students naturally are sad, but they also can be angry that they lost their friends and in denial about the whole thing, Mitchell explained. Not having school on Monday seemed to help some of the students as they had more time to deal with the tragedy before returning to classes, but Tuesday was still a very emotional day at the school.
""It was a very difficult day, it was a rough day,"" Mitchell said.
Even though classes were cancelled on Monday, the school was open for students who wanted talk to counselors about the accident, Mitchell said.
While the Alexander district student involved in the accident (Maggie Tabler) was a high school student, Mitchell said that counselors talked to students at all of the buildings in the district about the accident.
One common theme at the high school on Tuesday was the idea of doing something to carry on the memory of the teenagers who died, Mitchell said.
Many people floated different ideas for how to do this, and Mitchell said it's a good way to deal with a tragic loss such as this one.


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