An inexperienced teenage driver likely was traveling at more than 100 mph in a sport-utility vehicle when he struck a tree in a fatal Antioch Township crash in February, according to a Lake County sheriff's office investigation.
Officials initially said weather played a role in the one-vehicle wreck that claimed the lives of the driver, Joel Wittkamp, 16, of Antioch, and 17-year-old Ashley Seay of Lindenhurst. Documents show an investigation that followed shifted the blame to excessive speed.
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Deputy Chief Brian Keller said young drivers who may believe they are invincible should be reminded how reckless driving killed Seay and Wittkamp, and about the lingering effects the tragedy has on their loved ones.
"Use it as an example to maybe find some greater good to prevent it from happening to someone else," Keller said Monday.
Documents obtained through a recent Daily Herald Freedom of Information Act request show Wittkamp was driving a 2007 Chevrolet TrailBlazer owned by Seay's father when the crash occurred about 7:10 p.m. Feb. 18 on the 27000 block of Wilmot Road in Antioch Township.
The investigation showed Wittkamp had received his driver's license a short time before the wreck.
Reports state the pavement was wet from heavy rain the night of the crash when Wittkamp lost control of the vehicle.
The TrailBlazer hit a wooden fence and small bush before going airborne through a yard, striking the 2-foot-diameter tree on descent.
"Based on the severe damage to the vehicle and tree, it is probable the speed coming off the roadway was over 100 mph," wrote Deputy Tom Lex, a sheriff's office accident reconstructionist. "It is the opinion of the accident reconstructionist that speed was the major factor in this fatality accident, as the weather conditions ... would not have had a great effect had the vehicle been driving at or near the posted limit of 45 mph."
Police said the crash force was strong enough to uproot the tree, which investigators estimated had been 2 to 3 feet into the wet ground. Investigators said there was no debris in the roadway or in the immediate area of the crash, which indicated Wittkamp crashed after taking evasive action.
Reports state Wittkamp lost control of the SUV "due to the speed and his inexperienced driving."
Documents show Seay and Wittkamp were wearing seat belts when the crash occurred and that toxicology tests were negative.
Seay attended Lakes High School in Lake Villa, while Wittkamp was an Antioch High School student.
They had been dating for about three weeks, according to sheriff's police documents.
Wittkamp, who played junior varsity football at Antioch High, was remembered for an easygoing personality and enjoying music, shopping and cooking.
Seay was known as a sociable, respectful young woman who devoted herself to studying cosmetology at the Lake County High Schools Technology Campus in Grayslake, where she spent half of her academic days.