Charles Luthe’s father thought his car was still in the driveway until troopers loudly knocked on his door before dawn Wednesday.
“I knew at that point it was going to be one of those tragic moments where you can’t even recognize your child. He said we’re going to need dental records … He said they hit one of the biggest trees around here,” said Gary Osborn, whom the teen called Dad.
Charles “Chas” Luthe, 16, of Springfield; Wesley Culpepper, 15, of Huber Heights; and Daniel Tittle, 17, of Medway, were killed after the car they were riding in Wednesday ran off the road at a high rate of speed, slammed into a tree and shattered into pieces, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Chas’s parents don’t know who was driving Osborn’s 2010 Hyundai Sonata. The boys had spent the night at the Luthe home for spring break and were up until at least 2 a.m. Wednesday.
Suzanne Luthe, Chas’s mother, is engaged to Osborn and a retired Clark County Juvenile Court magistrate. She has been battling ovarian cancer for three years.
The teens likely died on impact.
“I guess that’s some comfort to know that they hadn’t suffered, but it’s not a lot,” Luthe said.
Osborn, a retired police officer, said he’s never seen a crash scene like it.
“In my 37 years … I’ve never seen a car that was totally torn into two and pieces 100 to 150 yards from the crash scene. We were told that the neighbors said the sound was like a bomb from the impact,” he said.
The last time Suzanne Luthe talked to the boys was just after 12:30 a.m. when they told her they forgot to make her a sandwich; she then heard their voices about 2 a.m. Wednesday.
The boys spent several days together that week — they ate at Waffle House, fished, wrestled. They built a bonfire Monday under a bridge, a night Chas described as a “great night.”
Wes’s father, Jeffrey Culpepper, said this week has been tough.
“The nightmare that I hoped would never come my way, to lose a son, I never wanted to experience it,” Culpepper said.
He, like Suzanne Luthe and Osborn, said he wished the boys had made better decisions.
“I can’t bring him back now. I know the boys are in a better place now. I have to hold on to that faith. I know what I’m going through. I can sympathize with the Luthe family and Tittle family,” Culpepper said.
David Tittle said his son, Daniel, was a wonderful boy who loved the outdoors, FFA and was great with children. The teen was looking forward to doing different things after high school, his dad said. He considered going into the Marine Corps.
“He will be missed greatly,” Tittle said.
Osborn and Suzanne Luthe are waiting for troopers to provide them with details of the crash, but know many of their questions might go unanswered.
Chas had spent 100 hours driving with his parents at his side and had been warned about the dangers of speeding, especially along Ridge Road.
The road is hilly, Osborn said, and they urged Chas to go 30 mph there.
“(They) knew that you can’t go 55 on that road and with the construction, the front of the road is totally torn up. You just couldn’t go that speed,” Suzanne Luthe said.
It’s clear the driver was speeding from the crash scene, she said, and the car likely went airborne.
“I don’t know who was driving, but it had to be that teenage you’re invincible thought, the way they think,” she said.
Chas’s parents sobbed as they recalled promising Wes and Daniel’s fathers that they would be safe if they spent the night at their home.
“I promised the fathers I would take care of their sons. My heart goes out to the families. You try to do the very, very best you can. You think you’ve got everything done right. They’re not going anywhere. There’s food in the house … But for some reason they got up and left,” Osborn said.
He and Suzanne Luthe attended a vigil Wednesday with dozens of classmates, friends and others gathered at the FFA barn behind Tecumseh High School to honor the students.
“I reminded them that they are not invincible. They’re flesh and blood and they have to remember that when they get in a car. It’s a 2000-pound dangerous weapon in their hands. It’s not a toy,” she said.
“It’s not a game you can start over,” Osborn said.
Wes and Chas called each other brothers and loved the outdoors. Chas loved war re-enactments and the FFA.
Suzanne Luthe took in Chas as a single mother when he was a baby and eventually adopted him. He had been at her side as she’s battled cancer.
“He’s been my life for the last 15-and-a-half years. In fighting cancer, I’ve been fighting to be there for him. I couldn’t leave him without a mother. I don’t know how I’m going to go on without him,” she said.