Family, friends cope with death of two teens
By Frank abderholden firstname.lastname@example.org February 19, 2013 5:42AM
Flowers placed at the scene of 27000 block of Wilmot Road where two teenagers were killed when the SUV they rode in crashed into a tree Monday night in Antioch Township. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 21, 2013 6:25AM
ANTIOCH TOWNSHIP — They had just started a relationship, but Monday night that ended on a rural road under bad weather conditions.
Now, family and friends of Joel Wittkamp, 16, of Antioch and Ashley Seay, 17, of Lindenhurst are trying to cope.
Both high schools, Antioch Community and Lakes Community, had crisis teams working with students and faculty after the announcement Tuesday morning when authorities released the victims’ names.
The two teenagers were killed when the Chevrolet Trailblazer SUV driven by Wittkamp crashed into a tree Monday around 7 p.m. on Wilmot Road near Antioch, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
Wittkamp was a junior at Antioch High School and a defensive back for the football team, which met separately Tuesday after school to talk about their teammate. Wittkamp also worked as a line cook at Pier West in Twin Lakes, Wis., according to his Facebook page, and where he stated he was “frying food like a boss.” He held the job since June of last year.
“Teachers and kids described him as a funny, caring kid. He had a sense of humor. He was nice to be around,” said John Whitehurst, principal of Antioch High School. He may also have played on the tennis team, but Whitehurst said he was trying to get in touch with the tennis coach to confirm that.
“This is the second time in a year for us,” said Whitehurst, referring to freshman Nicole Parfitt, 14, who died in a plane crash with her father just over the border in Wisconsin. “This is hitting the school really hard,” he said, adding that some of the students were making use of grief counselors.
According to Facebook, Wittkamp and Seay had been friends on the social Web site since February 2011, and they began a relationship Feb. 3 this year.
Seay, a junior at Lakes High School, had older brothers who attended the high school and she had younger twin sisters at the school. Principal Stephen Plank said he talked to her before and she was working hard on a cosmetology program offered at the Lake County High Schools Technical Campus located at the College of Lake County in Grayslake.
“That’s a significant commitment,” said Plank, who also said she would have had her certificate in another year. “In a lot of ways, when you see a teenage girl with a lot of spirit, enthusiasm and driven, she was that girl.”
Lakes Community, because her older siblings graduated, “Has some pretty deep roots,” he said. “I think people are shocked and deeply saddened. It has a profound impact.”
Tim Staples lives in the 27000 block of Wilmot Road and the SUV crashed into a 20-inch red maple in his front yard. “It was raining cats and dogs,” he said. “I was watching ‘Castle’ and I looked out my picture window and saw headlights, but it didn’t look right,” he said.
Then the SUV hit the tree. His wife ran out while he called 9-1-1 and told them to “bring all your equipment.”
Outside, he said the tree was uprooted and landed on top of the SUV. “You couldn’t tell it was a Blazer,” he said. The couple had their seat belts on, however the air bag did not deploy. “There was nothing we could do,” he said.
He said it’s possible the vehicle hydroplaned and lost control. Staples said the SUV was coming from the east and he said deer cross in that area between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. on a regular basis. “Who knows what it was. I just feel sorry for the families,” he said.
“It’s a tremendous tragedy for the district,” said Superintendent James McKay of Community High School District 117.
“This comes on the heels of another tragedy in Antioch two months ago when a freshman (Nicole Parfitt, 14,) died in a plane crash with her father,” he said. “This is just another blow to our community. I find it tragic and my heart goes out to the families and community.”
When authorities released the names of the victims, teachers informed students in their respective classes. The crisis team is at work at both high schools and McKay said his office has also been in touch with friends of the families.
There is no information on funeral services at this time.
The Sheriff’s Office said the teens were traveling west on Wilmot Road, just west of Lake Street, when it went off the road and hit a tree.
The tree was uprooted and partially landed on the car, according to a sheriff’s spokeswoman, and both were pronounced dead at the scene.
The cause of the accident remains under investigation, the spokeswoman said, but investigators believe weather conditions were a factor.
Joe Fisk and his friend Jake Borkowicz went to the crash site later Tuesday just to see what happened and pay their respects.
He knew Seay from his school, but had known Wittkamp from middle school. “I didn’t know they had been dating until this happened,” he said.
“A lot of the girls at school didn’t want to talk about it,” he said, “and a biology teacher got emotional when they told us about it. The hallways (of Lake Community High School) were quiet, more quiet than you would expect.”