Family of man killed by drag racing teens say courts aren’t being tough enough on juvenile offenders

Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 10:56 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - In 2022, a 19 News investigation uncovered a terrifying trend: the number of people drag racing through our streets is surging and it’s resulted in a number of injuries and in some cases even deaths.

The family of one of the recent victims reached out to 19 News frustrated with the way the criminal justice system has handled the juvenile offenders who killed their son.

“So why juveniles have a license to kill is beyond us and if he was 12 or 13 that feels more like a juvenile,” said Job Lesko, the stepfather of a drag racing victim. “Seventeen, I joined the military at 18. I was in Afghanistan I turned 21 in Afghanistan so to me at 17 you’re at that age where you know it’s close.”

Bobby Henry was just 22-years-old when he died.

His 32-year-old girlfriend, Brianca Palmer, didn’t make it either.

Cleveland police said the couple was headed home on a motorcycle last summer when two racing drivers hit and killed them in Cleveland’s Slavic Village.

“It’s the fact that we’ll never be the same,” said Danica Jankovic, Henry’s mom. “Bobby was a good kid. People just loved him. He was such a good soul.”

19 News first spoke with the family back in September following our investigation into drag racing that revealed calls were up 23% from 2021 to 2022 in Cleveland.

“I was angry I mean there was so many different emotions at that time because you still have to step back and look at as these are kids but their actions, the mistakes that they kept making over and over that evening shows that they’re not just kids,” said Jankovic.

Henry’s stepfather, Job Lesko, said the person whose car hit Henry was a 17-year-old boy.

He said he wasn’t charged as an adult, took a plea deal, and got a year in a group home and probation, which to Lesko is just a slap on the wrist.

“For taking two people’s lives in such an irresponsible manner to steal your mom’s car, hit them, collide with them, check on them and run away from the scene is deserving of punishment,” said Lesko.

Blesko said the other drag racer was a 16-year-old girl.

“The judge sent her home on house arrest,” Lesko said. “She was home on house arrest until like December 17. On December 17, she tampered with her device and escaped home detention and then she evaded capture and wasted police resources with this missing person’s report. This cop has to check on her at school and, you know, the morgue and you know, all these places she was with her dad. So, the family didn’t turn her in, they held her until court. At court, the judge locks her up but tells the lawyer to file a motion to release her. They file a motion they hold this hearing without us, you know, present, and they let her go back home.”

The family worries the teen will hurt or even kill someone else.

“We suspect that because he was not punished for this serious of a crime, that it will probably contribute to him committing more crime,” Lesko said.

19 News requested both teens’ court records from Cuyahoga County, but so far we have not heard back.

The family is pushing for change that will allow kids who commit serious crimes to face harsher consequences.

“I mean, every other story is a kid stealing a car, a kid killing somebody, a kid, you know, getting shot in the head,” Lesko said. “There’s a kid 16-year-old kid just shot in the head and in a stolen car, like a day ago like you know, so this is now never ending.”

The family said the 16-year-old girl is due back in court on March 1.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office told 19 News the state did file a bond over motion to try the pair as adults but the judge denied the motion.

Lexi Bauer, Communications Manager with the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office said, “We find the sentence appalling.”