His friends can stop shielding him with their coats. The trial is over. They're going back to school, and Steven Von Bargen could go to jail.
While I was moved by the fierce loyalty and compassion of those friends and their wall of coats, I still think justice was done. And, this young man must go to jail.
Steven Von Bargen was found guilty Wednesday of killing three people, two of his friends - Sarah Garibay and Kyle Yearion - and his brother, Greg.
They were all in a small car hurrying to classes at Roger Bacon High School. Steven, warned by a judge just three months earlier about his speeding, was at the wheel when his car swerved into another one.
The police say Steven was driving more than twice the 35-mph speed limit. The judge believed them. And so, Steven Von Bargen is responsible for the deaths of three teens, ages 15, 16 and 17.
I write this with no sense of victory. This is a sad story, sad beyond belief, sad beyond a parent's worst nightmare. But Steven must go to jail.
Steven Von Bargen's next day in court is a presentencing hearing set for May 19, five days before his 18th birthday.
Sometime this month Judge David Grossmann must make a tough decision. As a Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge, he can pick from a range of sentences.
The judge can put Steven on probation, fine him and send him on his way.
The judge can be creative and sentence Steven to community service, order him to give speeches at area high schools. The young man could tell his story, how reckless driving can kill your friends, take away your brother and ruin families.
Judge Grossmann can also put Steven in jail, from a minimum of six months to a maximum of three years.
Some say Steven has suffered enough. He lost two friends and a brother. He'll have that on his conscience forever. It will be his life sentence.
I'm sure he's suffered. I can barely imagine how it must feel. The shame and grief must burn a hole in your soul.
Everybody knows putting Steven in jail won't bring back his friends or his brother. And it likely will not make the grieving parents feel much better.
Leaving court Wednesday, Bev Yearion - Kyle's mother - told the TV cameras all anyone needs to know about this accident. Her son's body was so badly mangled he could not be an organ donor.
She felt the verdict was just. But that did not diminish her pain.
Although it won't make anyone feel much better, Steven still must go to jail.
On his behalf
Since the Jan. 14 accident, Steven has been blessed with many defenders.
Parents of the teens killed in the accident have supported Steven throughout this ordeal. The children they lost will not graduate from high school or grow up and marry. There will be no grandchildren. Yet they continue to be on the side of the teen who survived. These people have added to my understanding of a parent's capacity for unconditional love.
High school friends have stood unwaveringly beside Steven. Young women in Roger Bacon skirts escorted him to and from the courthouse. They flanked the blond 17-year-old, who, if not for this tragedy, would have a life that parallels his All-American looks. Gathered around Steven, this group burned with the hope and innocence that once illuminated the faces of Kyle, Sarah and Greg.
In the courthouse, Steven's friends held up their coats and acted as a human shield. They protected him from the prying eyes of cameras and nosy microphones. They stood by him.
Steven's parents were there, too. They held his hands. They put their arms around him. They had lost one son, but another needed them more than ever.
But all these people cannot shield Steven from the consequences of life forever.
He is responsible for the deaths of three people. His irresponsible actions sent another person to the hospital. This is not a slap-on-the-wrist offense.
He should go to jail. He may serve time until he's 21.
But, unlike Sarah, Kyle and Greg, when he gets out, he'll have his whole life ahead of him. And, the compassion and support, I expect, of all the people who've helped him this far.
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.
GUILTY VERDICT BRINGS NO RELIEF May 1, 1997
CULPABILITY IN FATAL CRASH ARGUED April 29, 1997
VON BARGEN TRIAL APRIL 14 April 4, 1997
TEEN WON'T GET ADULT TRIAL March 4, 1997
PARKED VAN CITED IN DRIVER'S DEFENSE Feb. 21, 1997
HUNDREDS SEEK MERCY FOR TEEN DRIVER Feb. 8, 1997
DAD PLEADS FOR SON TO AVOID PRISON Feb. 5, 1997
DRIVER FACES CRIMINAL CHARGES Jan. 31, 1997
'OTHER' DRIVER FILES LAWSUIT Jan. 22, 1997
SCHOOL HOLDS FUNERAL FOR THREE Jan. 19, 1997
THOUSANDS BID TEENS GOODBYE Jan. 18, 1997
POLICE TRY TO RECONSTRUCT CRASH Jan. 17, 1997
PALL CAST OVER ROGER BACON Jan. 16, 1997
3 DEATHS SHATTER SCHOOL Jan. 15, 1997