GAVERS - Three people are dead and eight people injured following a head-on collision involving two SUVs that occurred Sunday morning on state Route 518 in Wayne Township, just west of state Route 164.
Dead are James D. Nign, 39, of East Liverpool, and his wife Meghann Nign, 27, and Addisyn Benzel, 11, of Minerva, who were among the passengers in the Chevrolet Equinox being driven by Nign.
The accident occurred about a half mile west of Gavers at 10:54 a.m. Ohio Highway Patrol Lt. Joseph Dragovich said Nign was driving west on the two-lane road when his SUV was struck head-on by a Jeep Grand Cherokee operated by Rachel K. Lindesmith, 31, of Hanoverton, who went left of center.
In the back seat of Lindesmith's Grand Cherokee was her 9-month-old son Austin, who was in a car seat. Both Lindesmith and her son were taken by ambulance to the Salem Regional Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries. Lindesmith, who was wearing a seat belt, was later transferred to St. Elizabeth Trauma Center in Youngstown.
There were six other passengers in the Equinox besides the Nigns and Benzel: McKenna N. Nign, 11; McKayla E. Howard, 11; Savanah D. Nign, 6; Chase D. Nign, 4; Brody B. Nign, 1; and Payslee R. Nign, 9 months old.
According to Dragovich, the Nigns were occupying the front seats, which are separated by a console, and sitting on Mrs. Nign's lap was Savanah. In the backseat in cars eats were Chase, Brody and Payslee.
Riding in the cargo area of the Equinox, besides Benzel, were McKenna and Howard. The force of the impact resulted in Benzel being ejected from vehicle.
Taken by ambulance to Aultman Hospital in Canton was Howard, while McKenna was taken to Akron Children's Hospital. Flown by helicopter to UPMC Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh were Savanah, Chase, Brody and Payslee Nign.
Dragovich said the only ones in the Equinox using any restraints/seat belts were the children in the car seats.
The Equinox was heading to a family party at a roller skating rink in Minerva. Dragovich said troopers and Minerva Police were dispatched to the rink to notify any of the victims' parents or relatives who might have arrived.
The stretch of road was closed until about 5 p.m. while first responders extricated the living and dead from the mangled vehicles, and assisted ambulance crews and helped set up landing zones for the three helicopters.
Assisting at the scene were the Franklin Township, Salineville and West Point fire departments. The Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency also responded and brought its incident command truck for first responders to warm themselves during the six hours they were there.
James and Meghann Nign were both members of the Calcutta Volunteer Fire Department, where Chief Scott Smith said firefighters gathered Sunday afternoon to mourn their passing and discuss plans to host a ceremony honoring their comrades.
"We were just sitting around and talking," he said, when contacted. "This is a terrible thing, to lose two people like this."
The Nigns joined the department two years ago. "They would help with anything and do anything," he said, adding that firefighters take it hard any time one of their own dies, especially under these circumstances.
"We're like family. It's like losing a brother or sister," Smith said.
While Dragovich said they do not know at this point why the SUV went left of center, the tragic accident should serve as a reminder of the importance of wearing seat belts and the need to be alert at all times while driving, especially on the county's hilly and windy roads.