Murder trial over rock thrown off I-75 overpass shocks Clio

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Clio — One teen reveled in his rural roots, driving a tractor in a local tractor show. Another was madly in love with a girl, a few days after despairing over his old love. Several were sports nuts who played for local high school teams.

In other words, they were kids being kids. But that part of their lives is over.

The five Clio youths, ages 15-17, were arrested last week for allegedly dropping a rock from a highway overpass that killed a vehicle passenger.

Charged as adults, they face up to life in prison on charges of second-degree murder. A judge on Thursday ordered mental competency exams for three of them.

“They’re so young. That’s the worst part,” said Shelli Trafas, a longtime resident whose two children are grown. “It’s sad. It’s just so sad all the way around.”

The teens are from good families who are involved with the community and in their kids’ lives, some Clio residents said. Their parents are flabbergasted by the turn of events, friends said.

But the shock doesn’t end there. It extends to Clio Area High School, where several of the youths attend school and one graduated from in June.

Students there are worried about what will happen to their classmates, school officials say. They also wanted to do something for the victim’s family so, going class to class, they raised $1,500 in donations from students and staff.

The confusion courses through the sleepy downtown, dotted with vacant storefronts. Merchants and customers are bemused as their town is described in press accounts around the globe.

“It’s kind of sad that this has to be the biggest story around here,” said Cathy Hammond, who owns Club Vintage Fashions in the middle of town.

This type of thing doesn’t happen in the town of 2,500 people, locals said. In fact, little of anything ever happens here, they said.

One of the more popular functions last week was a fish fry Thursday at Clio Masonic Center. Earlier in the day, a church group held a potluck at The Coffee Shop.

‘They’re not’ monsters

It was amid such tranquil surroundings that rumors began to swirl last month that local youths were involved in the death of Kenneth White. White, 32, was riding in a van on Interstate 75 on Oct. 18 when he was struck in the head and chest by a six-pound rock.

The worst fears of five families were realized when authorities announced the arrests of Kyle Anger, 18; Mark Sekelsky and Mikadyn Payne, both 16; and Trevor Gray and Alex Miller, both 15. A judge ordered mental evaluations for Anger, Sekelsky and Gray, delaying the case until Jan. 11.

Sekelsky’s mother, Carrie, is treasurer of the Clio Area School Board. Anger’s parents, Joe and Anne, ran with Sekelsky in the 2016 election but lost.

The five families declined comment for this story.

Citing privacy requirements, the school declined to divulge any information about the students involved in the rock-throwing and their activities at the school.

Like many kids his age, sports was the center of Mark Sekelsky’s life, acquaintances said. Despite his slight frame, he played football and had wrestled for the high school team. It wasn’t clear whether he continues to play those sports.

“People will say they’re monsters, but they’re not. They’re children,” said attorney Frank Manley, who is representing Sekelsky.

Gray also loved sports and had played for the high school football team last year, acquaintances said. He didn’t play this year.

But the youth had a new passion. He had begun dating a girl in August and wrote about her on social media nearly every day.

Among the photos he posted were one that showed pictures of the couple lined up on a wall in the shape of a heart.

“I literally can never stop thinking about Shelby,” he wrote on Twitter on Aug. 27.

‘Senseless tragedy’

The only hint of trouble in the lives of the five youths was a school suspension served by Kyle Anger in 2013, according to his Facebook page. He wrote that he had been disciplined for telling a heavyset student he needed a bra.

Anger, who graduated from Clio High in June, is bipolar and suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, said his attorney, Ed Farrell. Anger had been in a special program since middle school, said the lawyer.

Attorneys already are trying to distance the other youths from Anger, whom police say was the one who dropped the rock that killed White. Anger is two years older than the next eldest youth involved in the incident.

“Once the details are learned as to each individual’s role, we will be able to fairly resolve this case,” said attorney Michael Manley, who is representing Payne.

At the high school, whose welcome sign is bedecked with a scarecrow and plastic jack-o’-lanterns, teachers this week prepared for parent-teacher conferences.

Most years students would be looking forward to a tradition where, during a week in December, they dress differently each day, wearing holiday pajamas, a holiday hat, flannel and an ugly sweater. But this year they’re preoccupied with the arrests.

“Many of us have a personal connection with this senseless tragedy,” said Fletcher Spears, superintendent of Clio Area Schools.

Principal Lisa Taylor said she was proud of her school.

“I have told many people many times there is no community like Clio,” she said.

A digital sign outside the school echoed the sentiment. It flashes the theme of the school year: “#ItStartsWithUs.”

Close-knit community

The bonds are tight between this small town and its high school, whose teams are called the Mustangs, said residents.

During football season, it wasn’t just students’ parents who filled the high school stands. It was locals with little connection to the team.

Mustang Pride signs wave from residents’ lawns and the windows of downtown businesses.

Along the two-block downtown, residents were puzzled by the arrests. They said they’ve had little trouble with local youths.

At West-Gamble hardware store, co-owner Greg West said kids once broke into the shop but he otherwise hasn’t heard of any other trouble. He is 58 and lived in town his whole life.

“This could have happened anywhere,” West said about the rock tossing. “It’s sad they would do that, throw their lives away.”

Next to the hardware store is a shop that seems like it would be a wonderland for local youth. Collectibles Unlimited has everything from toys to comic books to baseball cards.

But no kids were in the shop Thursday, just two adults. And that’s pretty typical, clerk Kristopher Atwell said.

“I was just telling the owner, kids their age should be all over this place,” he said about the five teens.

But times have changed, he said. Now children are consumed by computers and their cellphones.

And times have changed another way, said Atwell, 34. When he was young, a prank might involve tossing a water balloon. Now it involves dropping a 6-pound rock from a highway overpass.

“It’s unbelievable,” Atwell said. “That’s the only word that comes to mind.”

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Twitter: @francisXdonnell

Associated Press contributed.