Monday, July 16th, 2012
Two men die in fiery crash
By Margie Wuebker
Two men were killed early Saturday morning when the car in which they were riding veered out of control, struck two trees and burst into flames along state Route 119 near St. Henry. The accident occurred at 2:58 a.m., 20 minutes after the driver had been issued a warning from a Coldwater police officer.
Ryan J. Billenstein, 27, of Coldwater, was driving westbound on state Route 119 at a high rate of speed when his 2006 Pontiac GTO traveled off the south side of the road near the Lange/Fleetfoot Road intersection. The car spun out of control and the back end struck two trees in a nearby yard, according to Mercer County Sheriff's Office reports.
Billenstein and front-seat passenger Bethany Marie Wentworth, 21, of Greenville, escaped the burning vehicle and pulled Craig A. Gengler, 22, of Celina, from the right rear seat. They were unable to free the other backseat passenger, Vincent Anthony Gragorace, 21, of Greenville. Gengler and Gragorace were pronounced dead at the scene.
Billenstein, who reportedly suffered burns to the hands and arms, and Wentworth were taken by ambulance to Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater. Both were treated in the emergency room and released.
Coldwater Police Chief Randy Waltmire told The Daily Standard that Coldwater Patrolman Dave Powell, a four-year member of the department, stopped Billenstein along East Main Street at Fifth Street at 2:38 a.m. and issued a warning for a lanes of travel violation. A computer log entry indicated the traffic stop took roughly four minutes. A field sobriety test was not given, according to the log.
Minutes later Mercer County Central Dispatch received a call regarding an erratic driver traveling at a high rate of speed along U.S. 127, south of state Route 219. The caller did not have a license plate number but gave a description of the car, which reportedly had been on display at the car show in Celina earlier in the evening. Powell contacted Central Dispatch to report the description was similar to the car he had stopped.
Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey said the car's rate of travel at the time of the accident was considerably over the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. He would not release any further details, saying the accident remains under investigation.
Waltmire said Powell will be assisting deputies with the investigation as needed.
"At this time we do not know whether the occupants were using safety belts or whether the air bags deployed because the car was totally destroyed by fire," Grey said. "We do not know at this point whether alcohol or drugs were involved."
A blood sample was drawn from Billenstein; toxicology results will take six to eight weeks to receive.
The completed accident report will be sent to the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office for review and possible charges.
Responding to the scene in addition to deputies were St. Henry Fire Department, St. Henry Emergency Medical Services, assistant prosecutor Matt Fox and the Mercer County Emergency Response Volunteers.
It was the seventh fatal crash in the county this year, bringing the total number of traffic deaths to 12.