ST. HENRY - Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey reported this morning that deputies are investigating the seventh fatal traffic crash of 2012 in Mercer County. This crash resulted in two fatalities bringing the total deaths because of crashes to 12.
According to a news release issued by Grey, at 2:42 a.m. today, Mercer County Central Dispatch received a call of an erratic driver driving at a high rate of speed southbound on U.S. 127, south of Ohio 219, it is believed this may be the same vehicle. The vehicle in the crash had been stopped by a Coldwater Police Department unit and given a warning for failure to drive in the correct lanes of travel just before the 2:42 a.m. call. At 2:58 a.m., a 911 call was received reporting a crash at Ohio 119 and Fleetfoot Road.
The investigation revealed that Ryan J. Billenstein, age 27, 560 S. Second St., Coldwater, was driving a 2006 Pontiac GTO westbound on Ohio 119 at what appeared to be a high rate of speed. The vehicle went out of control and travelled off the south side of the roadway striking two trees before coming to rest. The vehicle then burst into flames.
Billenstein and front seat passenger, Bethany Marie Wentworth, age 21, Naomi Drive, Greenville, were transported by St. Henry EMS to Mercer Health in Coldwater. Left side rear seat passenger, Vincent Anthony Gragorace, age 21, Nottingham Place, Greenville, was trapped in the vehicle. Right side rear passenger, Craig A. Gengler, age 22, 327 Anthony St, Celina, was removed from the vehicle by Billenstein. Gragorace and Gengler were pronounced dead at the scene.
At this time it is unknown if the occupants were wearing safety belts or if the air bags deployed as the car was totally destroyed by the fire. The investigation is continuing.
Deputies were assisted at the scene by St. Henry Fire Department, St. Henry EMS, the Mercer County Emergency Response Volunteers, and Matt Fox from the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office.