The buzz of activity common to high school hallways was missing Wednesday when Mark Krebs stepped inside Aurora Central Catholic High School, BBC reports. It was “quiet as a mouse,” the recently retired administrator said. Few teachers tried to hold classes. Students filed into the library to speak with counselors or gathered to write down their thoughts on posters above the lockers of Seth Egger and Allison Bradford. It was too much to process — that the two 16-year-old students could have been in an SUV packed with four other classmates on a joyful mission to support their school in a playoff basketball game when those two lives ended in a collision on a fog-shrouded road.
The following morning, many could only communicate through hugs. “Most of the people, they’re just standing there looking at each other,” Krebs said. “They don’t know what to say.” Earlier in the morning, 500 to 600 people had poured into the high school for the daily 7:15 a.m. Mass, an event that normally draws a small number of teachers and deacons, students said. Students from nearby Rosary High School and Marmion Academy came to support the Aurora Central community at the service, overflowing the gym’s bleachers and balcony. Some students sat on the floor or stood in the hallway.
The Rev. F. William Etheredge, the school principal and superintendent, celebrated Mass, choking up during the homily, students said. The night before, Etheredge, who had been on his way to the game, was among the school staffers who arrived at the crash and then helped notify families. Sydney Ryeland, 16, a junior who was friends with Egger, read a Bible passage for the Mass.
“I could not stop crying,” she said. “There were some boys here that I have never seen let their guards down and they were breaking down.” lRelated ACC leader will ‘help the school heal’ After more hugs and crying, Ryeland said, many students left school for the day. The night before had been warm and foggy, with drivers reporting difficulty seeing a few feet in front of their cars.
An hour before tipoff for Aurora Central Catholic’s boys basketball team, the SUV carrying the six students was making the 45-mile drive to Rochelle when it collided with a semi-truck near Illinois Highway 38 and Dement Road in Rochelle. According to state police, the 17-year-old driving the SUV was traveling west on Illinois 38 when his vehicle failed to stop at a red light and crashed into the semi, which was attempting a left-hand turn onto Illinois 38 on a green arrow. Police have not released the SUV driver’s name because he is a juvenile. Egger, who was a front-seat passenger, was pronounced dead at the scene, state police said. Bradford, who was sitting in the SUV’s second row on the driver’s side, was pronounced dead at Rochelle Hospital.
Both students died of blunt force trauma, according to a coroner’s report. Bradford was not wearing a seat belt, police said, though the SUV’s other riders were. The 17-year-old driver was transported to Rochelle Hospital and then to St. Anthony’s Medical Center in Rockford. In a statement, Aurora Central Catholic said the student was stable. The other passengers, two 16 and one 17, signed medical waivers at the scene and were released. The 56-year-old truck driver was not injured and had a clean driving record.
Sweeping teen driving laws brought into effect in 2007 restrict the number of passengers for the first 12 months of licensing, or until the driver turns 18, to one person under the age of 20, unless the passenger is an immediate relative. No exception exists for attending school events. After that first year, the number of passengers is limited to one in the front seat and the number of safety belts in the back seat. So tragic, my condolences for the families involved The law — created after a yearlong Tribune examination of teen driving, the No. 1 killer of teens — also tripled the length of time a teen driver must possess a learner’s permit to nine months. In addition, the law extended night-driving limits for teens.
The SUV driver was not cited for having too many teens in his vehicle. It’s possible that he has had his license for more than a year and would not be subject to the law. Tuesday night’s basketball game went on as scheduled, but it was unclear how many in attendance knew what had happened. Word spread quickly on social media that there had been a crash, with many students and community members sharing thoughts and prayers using the hashtag “PRAY4ACC.”
Friends and family said Egger, of Montgomery, was known for his charisma, energy and love of sports. He played soccer, tennis and basketball and rooted for the University of North Carolina’s Tar Heels, a team he loved so much that he streamed the men’s basketball game on his phone at a recent school dance. Alex Wan, 16, a sophomore and close friend of Egger’s, said: “Seth was the type of person who would talk to everyone.”
Wan found the memorial Mass to be emotional but said it helped him. “It just kind of gave me some comfort, thinking about him going to heaven and that he’s in a better place now,” Wan said. Jeff Kus, 18, a senior who knew Egger from school basketball games, said he sat with friends in the library for 30 minutes, “just stunned.” “It’s like a dream we don’t want to believe,” Kus said. “It’s just slowly sinking in.” Egger’s aunt, Raquel Gonzalez-Thomas, said her nephew was “a happy-go-lucky kid who always had a smile on his face.”
Gonzalez-Thomas said Egger’s death was another tragedy for the family. His father, Dennis Egger, died of cancer 11 years ago when Seth was 4. “It is devastating,” she said. “My sister lost her husband and his father. He was one of the best kids in the world and to die at 16 … it is just unbelievable.” Gonzalez-Thomas set up a GoFundMe pagehttp://www.gofundme.com/oidzb0 to help cover Egger’s funeral expenses. By Wednesday night, the page had raised more than $20,000.
“The family appreciates all of the support, and we are praying for the other families affected by this,” Gonzalez-Thomas said. “I don’t think any family should have to bury a kid, or two from the same high school.” Bradford, of Aurora, also played several sports, including volleyball, basketball and softball. Olivia Morales, Bradford’s 15-year-old cousin, said that Bradford was a good student with many friends. Bradford loved to make her cousin laugh, she said. “You didn’t have to know her,” Morales said. “You’d look at her and know you wanted to be her friend.”
Morales grew up in Aurora and moved to Arizona about four years ago. During her time in Aurora, she said, she and Bradford were “practically like sisters.” The two spent time making silly videos on the computer, building blanket forts, bowling, watching movies and having sleepovers, Morales said. She saw her cousin for the first time in a few years on a visit to Aurora last month, Morales said.
Bradford’s uncle, Joe Morales, said “there are no words to explain” how much Bradford will be missed. “Our family and all of Allison’s many, many friends are still in shock,” he said in a Facebook message. The city of Aurora, like many others, sent condolences to the families of Aurora Central Catholic. “We join together as one supportive community as we mourn the loss of these two bright lights gone too soon.”