Two high schools in northern Lake County were mourning the loss today of two teenagers who died when their SUV crashed into a tree in Antioch in heavy rain.
"People are kind of numb around here," said Brian Glashagel, a football coach at Antioch High School, where one of the victims, Joel Wittkamp, 16, was a student.
"There are a lot of people who stayed home today," said Nathan Hawksworth, who knew the other victim, Ashley Seay, 17 of Lindenhurst.
Wittkamp and Seay were traveling west when Wittkamp's Chevrolet Trailblazer left the road in the 27000 block of Wilmot Road around 7 p.m. Monday, according to the Lake County Sheriff's Office. The SUV went through a yard before hitting the tree, the office said.
Both teens died on the scene.
Authorities said they believe weather contributed to the crash. A man who lives where the crash occurred said it was raining hard when the accident occurred.
"It was pouring," said Tim Staples.
Staples said he was home when "I just saw the headlights spin ... We ran out and you could see the car was in the tree, the tree was on the car ... a mangled car I couldn't recognize."
"We checked the scene," he said. "We had flashlights and we looked inside. It didn't look promising, it looked really bad."
He said firefighters reached the scene in 7 or 8 minutes. "It took them an hour to get them out. They had to take the top of the car off."
Staples said the car hit a tree he had planted on his property 30 years ago.
Antioch High School Principal John Whitehurst said the school had "counselors who are available," and that "someone is following the young man's schedule. If there were kids close to him, we are identifying who they are."
Whitehurst noted an earlier tragedy last November, when freshman Nicole Parfitt, 14, and her father were killed in a plane crash. "I know this is going to bring back some really unfortunate memories with kids intimately familiar with the incident," he said.
Ashley came from a large family, with younger twin sisters and a few older siblings who have already graduated from Lakes Community High School, said Steve Plank, principal of the Lake Villa campus. "There was a deep connection between the family, the school and community," he said.
Ashley was a cosmetology student who attended the high school until about noon, then spent her afternoons at the Lake County High Schools Technology Campus in Grayslake. "That was a passion of hers," Plank said.
Counselors were available when classes began today, for students and staff. "We have a number of faculty who are deeply affected by this, who have also needed support," he said. "It's kind of tough to come to school in the morning and realize there's a hole in your classroom."
Joel was on the high school football team, playing defense and on special teams, according to Glashagel. "He would have helped us out next year. He was working out really hard this season."
He described Joel as a "free spirit" who "made people laugh."
"He was that type of spirited kid. Football-wise, he was just a hard worker, just like he was in the classroom. He worked for everything he got."
Hawksworth said Ashley "was just a great friend. Everyone she met, she became good friends with ... Her personality always lighted up the room. She was an all-around great person."