ELYRIA – Around 250 friends and family members held a candlelight vigil Saturday night for an 18-year-old Elyria man killed earlier that morning in a car crash.
Andrew “A.J.” Vincent was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital after the 1:30 a.m. crash at Brandston Avenue and Poplar Street.
Vincent was touted as “a great guy,” “goofy,” “fun-loving” and “funny” by those who attended the vigil.
Deacon Patrick Humphrey of St. Jude Church and the deacon for Elyria Catholic High School called the vigil “an outpouring of love” for Vincent’s family.
“We need prayers to light up the darkness a little for his family,” Humphrey said. “This is the time when love will show itself and bring hope in this time of despair. … We look for hope that A.J. has found new life and his family will find strength.”
Two passengers in Vincent’s car are being treated at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. Mitchell Johnson, of Elyria, was listed in critical condition and 19-year-old Patrick Desouza, of Sheffield Village, was listed in serious condition Saturday night, according to a nursing supervisor. A third passenger, Cody Toboz, of Grafton, managed to run from the crash site to Vincent’s house for help, according to family friend Tracee Barbee.
Vincent’s mother, Jean Vincent, thanked the crowd for attending and honoring her only son’s memory.
“I’m thankful the other boys in the car are okay,” she said. “Why they took A.J. from me I don’t know and I never will know.”
Jean Vincent talked about A.J.’s dedication to his young niece, “Ellie”, and asked for prayers. She was openly crying by the end of her remarks.
“I hope all of you who came out tonight please say a prayer because I can’t be with him now and I know he needs me,” she said as many of the people around her also began crying. “So say a prayer that someone is taking care of him.”
A.J.’s sister also spoke.
“A.J. was my brother,” she said as she cried. “He was the first to hold my baby. He adored Ellie and was a father figure for her. She adored him. He will be missed every day. I love you, A.J.”
Others shared memories and laughter occasionally mingled with sobs as the crowd huddled against the cold in the parking lot of Elyria Catholic High School. A shrine was put up on the lot’s curb where the accident occurred. Candles, stuffed animals and flowers were laid out and people stood and waited for a chance to write a message on two large signs put up in A.J.’s memory.
Humphrey finished the vigil with a prayer.
“We turn to (God) for comfort and a sense of peace,” he said. “We pray for wisdom to replace our confusion and for peace to replace our anger. … Go in peace and drive carefully.”
According to a press release from Elyria police, 21-year-old Mark Ralich, of Elyria, was driving a 2005 Chevy Malibu which hit A.J.’s car on the driver’s side. Additional details about the crash itself were not released.
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.
A.J. and his friends were taking his mother’s car to fill it with gasoline so she wouldn’t have to stop on her way to work at Red Lobster, Barbee said. Barbee is the mother of one of A.J.’s friends.
“I know A.J. very well,” Barbee said. “He was just at our house the other day, laughing. He was very laid back. He got along with everybody.”
Barbee and others talked about A.J.’s love of baseball, hockey and camping. Barbee said A.J.’s Facebook page was inundated with friend requests and messages of condolences within hours of the crash.
Brian Clifford, 19, attended Elyria High School with A.J. They’d been friends ever since meeting years ago while playing baseball for Little League North.
“He loved to goof around,” Clifford said of A.J. “He was a great kid, loved his family. He was funny. He made people laugh.”
A.J.’s cousin, Matt Spencer, 18, of Elyria, said he grew up with A.J. and said the two “were always together.”
Spencer described A.J. has humble, friendly, confident and funny.
“He was so funny,” Spencer said. “Everybody around here was cool with him.”
During the vigil, Spencer described A.J. as someone you could depend on.
“When it came to A.J., I always knew I had someone to turn to,” he said. “He was like a brother to me. I will always love him.”
A fundraiser to help Jean Vincent deal with the financial impact has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Dec. 11 at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 1140 West River Road North. 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.
Contact Alicia Castelli at 329-7155 or email@example.com.