Ashley Wilson was a natural leader who was excited about entering high school and not afraid to look ahead.
A tad on the quiet side, the 14-year-old Naperville girl earned the respect of her classmates at Crone Middle School and was chosen by her fellow eighth-graders to shadow high school students at Neuqua Valley High School in south Naperville. As one of Crone's "golden ambassadors," Ashley worked to prepare her peers for the tough transition to high school, Crone Principal Allan Davenport said.
"She was a great kid, just very well-liked by all of her peers," Davenport said Friday.
Ashley died Wednesday night in a motorcycle crash that also injured her father on I-55 near Bolingbrook, state police said. Neither was wearing a helmet.
The teen was riding on the back of her father's motorcycle, traveling south on I-55, about a quarter-mile from I-355, just before 8:30 p.m., Trooper Ryan Palmer said.
Ashley's dad, Reginald Wilson, who lives in Glenwood, told police the motorcycle began to shake. The 54-year-old tried to pull over to the left shoulder but lost control, Palmer said. The 1995 Honda motorcycle went down and struck a median, Palmer said.
Reginald Wilson was cited for riding with an expired driver's license, operating without a motorcycle classification on the license and no proof of insurance in the fatal crash, Palmer said.
Bolingbrook paramedics took the father to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, where he was later released.
An autopsy on the teen showed she died from multiple injuries, including to the head, according to the Will County coroner's office.
Neuqua Valley High School Principal Bob McBride, who met Ashley in her role as golden ambassador, said he was sad to lose a "future Wildcat."
"In the brief time I was able to have shared with her, it was evident Ashley was a very forward-thinking young lady who was pretty excited about her high school future and beyond," he said.
McBride said Neuqua staff members will pay careful attention to students during Tuesday's freshman orientation to make sure everyone is OK.
"Tuesday will likely be the first time many of the students will be together in a large group, so we'll be mindful of appropriate ways to remember Ashley," McBride said. "It's very tricky because you never know how students are going to react. Some are going to be excited and focused on the beginning of the school year while others are going to instantly recognize they are beginning this new chapter without a dear friend."
McBride said guidance counselors and social workers will be available Tuesday and as the school year begins in a few weeks.
Illinois is one of only three states with no laws about the use of motorcycle helmets. Iowa and New Hampshire are the other two.
So-called universal helmet laws requiring motorcyclists of any age to wear a helmet have been adopted in 19 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Laws requiring helmets only for younger motorcyclists, in some cases 17 and younger, have been embraced in 28 states.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White continues to study motorcycle safety for children and possible legislation, spokeswoman Beth Kaufman said.
"This is a serious issue," she said.
Funeral arrangements for Ashley have not yet been set.