Diabetes complications, not crash injuries, killed percussion teacher

  • Jeff Hoke was beaming after his Learning Everything About Percussion group received a first-place plaque in a regional competition in Indianapolis in 2007.

    Jeff Hoke was beaming after his Learning Everything About Percussion group received a first-place plaque in a regional competition in Indianapolis in 2007. Photo courtesy Laith Hodi

Updated 3/24/2009 5:21 PM

A Lake County man is being remembered as an instructor who brought out the best in his percussion students, who flocked to him from across the Chicago area and other states if they wanted to succeed in high-level competition.

Jeffrey Hoke, 42, of Lindenhurst, died after falling into a diabetic coma while driving Sunday afternoon, authorities said. He crashed into a tree off Grass Lake Road east of Wittenburg Road, an unincorporated area near Lake Villa.


But Hoke didn't die from crash injuries, Lake County Coroner Dr. Richard Keller said Tuesday.

Keller said an autopsy showed complications from diabetes - including an above-normal blood-sugar level and other body chemistry changes - caused Hoke's death. Keller said Hoke's blood-sugar level was at least 450, beyond the 125 considered a risk by the American Diabetes Association.

Hoke's diabetes never was diagnosed by a physician, and he was unaware he had the disease.

"He just lapsed into a coma while he was driving," Keller said.

Hoke was known in music circles for his abilities as a percussion specialist, and taught at suburban high schools from Glenview to Gurnee. He also founded the Learning Everything About Percussion organization, which draws teenage pupils from Illinois and other Midwest states.

Laith Hodi, who worked with Hoke at the competitive percussion group, said he was with his longtime friend just 20 minutes before the crash. Hodi said Hoke was returning home from a Michigan competition and nothing seemed unusual.

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"He was a riot. He would crack jokes day in and day out," said Hodi, who was a Stevenson High School student in Lincolnshire when Hoke was a percussion instructor there in 1990.

Michele Becker of Glenview said her son, Robert, came to Hoke's group because he was interested in participating in a high level of indoor drum line competition. She said Hoke was known for drawing the best from his students and giving them opportunities.

"It's tragic," Becker said. "Very, very tragic. We lost a great friend and a real mentor to our youths."

Hodi said Hoke touched many students' lives and had a motto for them: "Live your life with your heart on fire and your mind on ice."

Lindenhurst Police Chief Jack McKeever said 18-year-old Jami Wirtala, while participating in the village's Explorer program, noticed Hoke slumped in the driver's seat and no longer on control of his vehicle about 3:30 p.m. Sunday.


Wirtala saw Hoke's car hit the tree and rushed to assist, McKeever said. Wirtala began cardiopulmonary resuscitation in an effort to save Hoke, who initially struggled for breath and mumbled in the vehicle after the crash.

Authorities said Hoke wasn't breathing and didn't have a heartbeat when the Lake Villa Rescue Squad took him to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

One of every four Americans has diabetes and doesn't know it, according to the ADA. Increased thirst, frequent urination and irritability are potential symptoms of diabetes.

"That's the problem with diabetes," said Diane Tuncer, an ADA spokeswoman. "A lot of the symptoms can be discounted."

Hodi said about 32 members of Learning Everything About Percussion will forge ahead and participate in the Percussion World Championships from April 16 to 18 in Dayton, Ohio. He said Hoke would want nothing less.

"This was his dream," Hodi said. "We are going to finish it and bring him with us through all of this."

Hoke is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and children, Kelly and Sarah. A memorial service is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 26 at St. Mark Lutheran Church, 1822 E. Grand Ave., Lindenhurst.

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