Students at all of Ravenna's schools had extra counselors to help them mourn one of their own.
A small roadside memorial was placed near the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks where Sierra Thornton, 15, died when the SUV she was driving collided with a southbound train. The railroad tracks cross the private driveway that is the only access to three homes off the 5000 block of South Prospect Street, between Rivers Towing and Summit Road in Ravenna Township. Sierra had just gotten her learner's permit, and her father, Andy Thornton, was the licensed driver in the passenger's seat. Sierra's sisters were seated in the back seat.
Portage County Sheriff David Doak said Andrew Thornton heard the train as the car partially crossed the tracks. It is unclear whether he heard the train whistle or the train itself, and it is believed that Sierra panicked.
The SUV rolled over several times and landed on the west side of the tracks.
Andrew Thornton was injured in the crash, as were daughters Juliana, 12; Katlyn, 14; Morgan, 10 and Paige, 7. All survivors have been released from area hospitals except Juliana and Katlyn, who remained in Akron Children's Hospital Medical Center Monday. The hospital did not release conditions of the girls to police or the media.
The site is in an area of South Prospect Street that is closed for construction, but area residents managed to find the site to leave a small stuffed bear and flowers as a tribute. A fund for the family has been set up at Fifth Third Bank, and contributions can be made to the Thornton Family Fund at any branch.
Tom Decker, chief investigator with the Portage County Coroner's Office, said an autopsy performed by the Summit County Medical Examiner showed that Sierra died from a broken neck, and that she died instantly. She had no other serious injuries, and was wearing a seat belt.
She would have turned 16 on Nov. 6, according to information from the school district.
Dennis Honkala, superintendent of the Ravenna School District, said the counselors were at all schools in the district, including Ravenna High School, where Sierra was a sophomore and Katlyn is a freshman. Juliana is a sixth grader at Brown Middle School, and Morgan and Paige are students at Willyard Elementary School.
Honkala said because of the age range of the girls, it is likely that students at other schools knew one of the girls.
"This is devastating for the schools and the whole community," he said. "Especially when there's loss of life involving somebody so young, when something like this happens, it's shocking."
He said Sierra was "a good student" who was on the honor roll and involved with school activities.
"She was kind of quiet, but she had lots of friends," he said.
Ravenna Township Trustee Patsy Artz said trustees have not discussed the crossing, but predicted that it will be a "topic of discussion" at the panel's next meeting on Oct. 15.
She said she is not sure what trustees can do because the railroad owns the land, and the driveway is private property.
Donations can be made to the Thornton Family Fund at any Fifth Third Bank.
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