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911 Call; Teen 'fighting for his life' after crowbar attack

Cary Ashby • Apr 24, 2013 at 9:05 AM

A Dayton-area teenager is in a Toledo trauma center fighting for his life after being attacked by two Bellevue men early Monday morning.

Huron County Sheriff Dane Howard said his office is handling the case as if the male victim might die.

"It's not fair for me to speculate, but this is more than a standard assault," he said.

The victim, Austin Thornton 19, was listed in critical condition in the neuro-intensive care unit of Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center as of early Monday afternoon, a hospital spokeswoman said.

"We are deeply concerned about the health of this young man," said Howard, who suspects Thornton is "fighting for his life" at the hospital.

Two suspects have been arrested and charged in connection with attacking Thornton.

Tyler G. Smith, 19, of 223 Hamilton St., Bellevue, is charged with attempted murder, a first-degree felony. Connor C.D. Holbrook, 19, of 840 Kilbourne St., Bellevue, is charged with felonious assault, a second-degree felony.

"At this point, these are preliminary charges. The investigation is ongoing," Norwalk Assistant Law Director Scott Christophel said.

Smith could be charged with murder and Holbrook could face complicity to murder if the victim dies, Christophel said. The prosecutor also said the two suspects could face additional charges once their cases are presented to a Huron County grand jury.

Authorities have declined to say why Thornton was in Huron County or how the suspects know the victim.

Bond hearings

Smith must post a $500,000 bond before being released from the Huron County Jail.

"The allegation is he hit another (person) in the head with a crowbar," Christophel said at Monday's bond hearing in Norwalk Municipal Court.

Judge John Ridge earlier asked Smith if he knew attempted murder was a serious offense.

"Yes, I really regret it," Smith said via closed-circuit television.

"He drove Mr. Smith to the residence," Christophel said, and knew Smith had a crowbar with him and intended to cause Thornton serious physical harm.

Holbrook also reportedly drove Smith away from the Peru Township crime scene and helped hide the crowbar, Christophel told the court.

"He also attempted to hide Mr. Smith," the prosecutor added.

Holbrook and Smith have preliminary hearings scheduled for 1:15 p.m. May 1. If they waive their right to have the state present evidence, their cases will be transferred to Huron County Common Pleas Court for a possible grand jury indictment.

Howard was asked about the motive in the attack.

"I don't think it's fair to talk about motive. If I speak about the specifics of the motive, it could impede the investigation," the sheriff said.

The investigation

Detective Sgt. Josh Querin, who is leading the investigation, said investigators determined Smith was "the primary suspect" after speaking to witnesses. Querin and Detective Bill Duncan interviewed Smith.

"He initially was dishonest and then he admitted to the crime," Chief Deputy Ted Patrick said.

About 12:30 a.m. Monday, the sheriff's office received a 9-1-1 call about "an act of violence" that happened at 131 Ohio 99, Willard. The 9-1-1 call initially went to the Willard Police Department, whose dispatchers transferred the call immediately.

Deputies first responded to Mercy Willard Hospital, where the victim first was transported.

"He was unresponsive at that time," Howard said.

A LifeFlight helicopter later transported Thornton to Mercy St. Vincent in Toledo. Howard said the victim sustained severe head trauma and blunt trauma to his torso.

Detectives immediately were assigned to the case. Howard said the Bellevue Police Department and Sandusky County Sheriff's Office assisted deputies because the two suspects were arrested at an apartment complex on Hamilton Street, which is on the Sandusky County side of Bellevue.

"The crime happened in Huron County," the sheriff added.

"Bellevue was truly remarkable with the assistance they provided," said Howard, who called the initial response a collaborative effort.

Smith and Holbrook were with a female subject when they were arrested and located about 2:30 a.m. Howard said the woman presently is being treated as a witness.

At one point, Deputy Kayla Zander went to Mercy St. Vincent to speak with the victim and his relatives, but Howard said the deputy wasn't able to speak to Thornton.

Agents with the Ohio Bureau of Identification (BCI) responded to Peru Township and processed the crime scene. BCI agents also are expected to process the crowbar for trace evidence.

During the investigation, authorities received information that someone threw the crowbar into a ditch.

"Deputy (John) Vogel recovered that weapon and that was turned over to BCI," Howard said.

As of Monday morning, BCI agents had processed several crime scenes and were expected to do so until at least the afternoon, Howard said.

The sheriff's office obtained a search warrant from Huron County Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Cardwell. Although Howard didn't release details of the warrant, court administrator Chris Mushett confirmed the sheriff's office had received one.

Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler was at the sheriff's office about 8 a.m. Monday to be briefed on the case.

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