September 20, 2014

Elyria
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A.J. Vincent remembered: ‘Eighteen years is not enough living’

ELYRIA — Jean Vincent is the kind of mother who opens her home — and refrigerator — to all of her son’s friends. And while her house is still full of people, it is also full of contradictions. Tears give way to laughter, laughter gives way to tears. Silent pauses give way to chaos as waves of family and friends come and go. This is Vincent’s new life since her son, Andrew J. “A.J.” Vincent, was killed in a car accident 1,000 feet from his front door on Brandston Avenue early Saturday morning.

The crash

Vincent said that A.J. had just gotten back from a Lake Erie Monsters hockey game and was going to take one of his friends home.

“I told him to take (my car) because I needed gas,” Jean Vincent said. Moments later, as she was working on Christmas decorations, she heard a loud sound like a gunshot.

“I knew it was my car,” she said.

More photos below.

Jean Vincent ran outside to the intersection of Poplar Street, and saw that the first car wasn’t hers. As she ran toward her car, one of the passengers, Cody Toboz, had pushed himself out of the mangled wreck and was running toward her. She told him to run inside and get her daughter Tonya Vincent, a nurse.

Jean Vincent then saw her son’s body lying on top of the front seat passenger, Mitchell “Mitch” Johnson. Another boy, Patrick Desouza, 19, was in the back seat. All three were unconscious, Jean Vincent said.

Tonya Vincent ran out and screamed at her brother’s friends, who were in and out of consciousness, to stay awake. She held Johnson’s hand as he patted A.J.’s back, trying to get his friend to wake up.

“That boy tried so hard. … I will never forget that,” Tonya Vincent said.

A.J. was the only one who never answered her.

Crews took more than an hour to remove A.J. and his friends from the vehicle. Jean Vincent said at first the family was told A.J. would be flown to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. She was halfway there when her family called to tell her to come back, saying that crews were taking A.J. to EMH Regional Medical Center because they could not stabilize him for the flight.

When she got to EMH, Vincent learned her son had been declared dead at the scene.

Johnson was listed in critical condition on Saturday and as fair on Sunday, according to a MetroHealth spokeswoman. Desouza originally was listed as serious, but is now in good condition. The other driver, Mark Ralich, 21, of Elyria, was listed in good condition.

A home missing its son

Vincent and her large, extended family remember A.J. as a funny, talented boy who loved his family and friends. A graduate of Elyria High School, A.J. was enrolled at Lorain County Community College where he was taking courses in criminal justice and forensics.

He absolutely lived for his 2-year-old niece, Ellie, Vincent said. A.J. would read to her and play games with her, and when he and his friends were in his bedroom Ellie would knock on the door and he would let her in. On his 18th birthday, he got a tattoo of her name on his chest above his heart.

Autumn Muniz had been his girlfriend since the couple started dating in the seventh grade.

“I’m going to miss him more than anything, more than anyone could ever think,” Muniz said. “Not a day will go by that I won’t think of him. My life will be changed forever.

“I’ll love him forever,” she said.

Vincent said she was thankful she could be by her son’s side in the moments after the crash, but she doesn’t know how she will cope with the loss.

“It’s just not fair,” she said. “I don’t think I can ever drive that way again,” even though she must see the intersection every day.

She said she worries about the other boys.

“These kids have to live with this for the rest of their lives.”

She also thanked the men and women who helped free her son and his friends from the wreckage and tried to save him.

“We are so grateful,” she said.

Questioning why

Elyria police are still investigating the crash, and as of Sunday no charges had been filed against Ralich, the driver of the other vehicle.

Public records indicate Ralich has three prior alcohol-related arrests. He was also charged with no operator’s license and reasonable control in January 2008. Additionally, a warrant for his arrest was issued Nov. 4 for failing to follow conditions of a suspended sentence in a 2009 alcohol-related offense.

According to a press release from Elyria police, Ralich was driving a 2005 Chevy Malibu that hit A.J.’s car, a Ford Focus, on the driver’s side.

“I can’t get over it, I really can’t. How was that man ever let out of jail?” said Selma Stalla, A.J.’s maternal grandmother.

“I’m 80 years old. … I never thought I would have to live to bury one of them,” she said of her numerous grandchildren. “Eighteen years is not enough living.”

A fundraiser to help Jean Vincent deal with the financial impact will be 2 p.m. Dec. 11 at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 1140 West River Road N. Tickets for the fundraiser are $10 for adults and $5 for children under 10. Donations can also be made to the A.J. Vincent Memorial Fund at FirstMerit Bank branches.

Visitation will be 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Laubenthal-Mercado Funeral Home, 38475 Chestnut Ridge Road, Elyria. Closing prayers will be 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the funeral home followed by a funeral Mass at 10 a.m. at St. Jude Church, 590 Poplar St.

Contact Kaitlin Bushinski at (440) 329-7144 or kbushinski@chroniclet.com.