State police are continuing to search for a hit-and-run driver who struck and killed a Villa Park teen Saturday near Joslin, Ill.
Authorities say 17-year-old Emilio A. Perez, a junior at Willowbrook High School, was struck by a vehicle between 7:15 and 7:30 p.m. while walking along I-88 near mile marker 6.
Rock Island County Coroner Brian Gustafson said it appears Perez ran out of gas and was walking along the tollway about a half-mile west of his vehicle when he was struck. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 9 p.m.
"It's an absolutely tragic, tragic situation for the family of this young man," he said.
Kayleigh Barry, a senior at Willowbrook High School, said Perez was an outgoing, funny friend.
"He's just a guy you're never going to forget. He was a character and he had a lot of potential to go far in life," she said. "It's just so sad that somebody took it away from him so fast."
Barry said Perez worked at Labriola Bakery in Oak Brook and did some modeling. She said he was many girls' "go-to guy" on relationships and a great shopping partner.
"He was the first getting me up on Black Friday," she said.
A few years ago Perez lost his mother, who Barry said was the most important person in his life.
"She meant the world to him," Barry said. "Everything he did, he said, 'I'm only doing this for my mom.'"
Still, he always found a way to make people smile.
Barry said Perez's deep voice was unmistakable, and he would play on it by introducing himself with a woman's name. She said he was always giving people a poke in the hallway or coming up with playful tricks, such as tipping a clown a few dollars to chase her mom at a haunted house.
Barry said Perez's death is especially hard after coping with the passing of Darnell Holt, who was killed two years ago in an apparent murder-suicide. Holt was in the same graudating class as Perez.
At the time, students found comfort by painting a rock in front of the school with Holt's favorite color. For Perez, they painted the rock blue to match the school's colors, and have since held a memorial and left flowers around it in memory of him.
Willowbrook High School issued a news release Tuesday indicating it is offering support services for students and staff members.
"Perez was a true Willowbrook Warrior in every sense of the word and was involved throughout Willowbrook High School," Principal Dan Krause said in the statement. "We are deeply saddened by this loss and Perez will always be a part of Willowbrook High School."
Gustafson's office and Illinois State Police are still investigating. Police are searching for a 1999 to 2002 Chevrolet Suburban, Tahoe or Silverado with a missing driver's side heated mirror and damaged driver's side headlight. The color of the vehicle is unknown.
Anyone who witnessed or has information relating to the crash is asked to call state police at (309) 752-4915.
A visitation is scheduled for 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Steuerle Funeral Home, 350 S. Ardmore Ave., in Villa Park. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. at St. Alexander Church, 300 S. Cornell Ave., in Villa Park.