Perhaps you saw in The Star on Wednesday an item about a 16-year-old youth being charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Zach Myers, who died from injuries he suffered in a Dec. 1, head-on collision in Olathe.
That’s the case where I stirred a batch of hot coals after I called Zach’s parents to try to find out what happened that Wednesday morning on North Iowa Street.
What happened, I discovered through some straightforward reporting, was that the driver of the car was going at least twice the posted 25 mph speed limit when the car he was driving crossed the center line and collided with a car being driven by a 20-year-old woman.
The woman, Ashley Poage of Olathe, apparently edged across the center line about the same time as she maneuvered around a truck that was parked on the street. Poage told police she was traveling about 20 mph.
Poage was out on an errand; the boys were traveling from a vocational school in downtown Olathe to their home school, Olathe Northwest.
Neither Poage nor the two front-seat occupants of the car in which 16-year-old Zach was riding was seriously injured. But Zach, seated behind the driver, suffered a massive head injury and died a day later.
A witness who got to the scene a minute or two after the crash told me that Zach did not have his seat belt on when she got to the car and opened the back door. She said it appeared, from blood stains on the lap portion of the belt, that he might have been wearing the lap portion of the belt but not the shoulder harness, which bore no blood stains. The police report was ambiguous on the seat-belt issue.
Joshua Pena, the driver of the car in which the boys were riding — a borrowed car — told police he was going 50 to 60 mph. The other boy in the front seat told police that shortly before the crash “he looked at the speedometer and noticed that they were traveling 70 mph.”
So, now, Pena is charged not only with involuntary manslaughter but also two counts of reckless battery in the injuries of Poage and the third boy.
The formal “complaint” — the charge sheet — that the Johnson County District Attorney’s office filed on Monday does not reveal any details of the case. It does not mention speed, and it does not reveal the results of blood tests conducted on samples taken from Pena and Poage. The police report on the crash says there was no indication that drugs or alcohol were involved.
This is an incredibly tragic and upsetting case all the way around.
One boy is dead. Another is charged with manslaughter and has to live with the death of his companion. The third boy is either kicking himself for not doing anything to try to slow Pena down, or, if he did try to slow him down, is asking himself if he could have done more. And Poage has to be thinking about how things would have been different if that damn truck hadn’t been in her path or if she had arrived a few seconds earlier or later.
And Zach’s parents, Kimberly and John Myers, and Zach’s brother, John Myers Jr. — as well as grandparents, other relatives and friends — are left with a void that will never be filled or a memory that will never be erased.
My deepest sympathy goes out to all parties involved in the case.
I’m sure the Myerses told Zach about the inherent danger of speeding, how to wear his seat belt and to wear it at all times. (John Myers Sr. is a captain on the Olathe Fire Department.)
But it’s a warning to the rest of us — parents, relatives, friends of young people — to remind youngsters, over and over, to obey the speed limit and to tell them, even demonstrate, how to wear their seat belts properly.
If they try to wave us off, we need to tell them about Zach Myers.