Aurora teens killed in crash 'loved to make people smile'
Students at Aurora Central Catholic High School say they will miss the smiles and laughter of two classmates who were killed when the SUV they were riding in collided with a semitrailer truck along a fog-covered road in Rochelle.
Ally Bradford and Seth Egger were being remembered as confident, goofy, positive and athletic teens by family members and friends mourning their deaths Wednesday after the tragic Tuesday evening crash.
"She was a loving person who loved to have fun, loved to make people smile," Dianna Bradford of Aurora said about her 16-year-old daughter. "I love everything about her."
Ally and Seth were traveling Tuesday with four other Aurora Central Catholic students -- Liam Doyle, Cori Dahl, Hannah Bradford and driver Jared Friedrich -- to a regional basketball game against Marengo at Rochelle High School.
Riding west on Route 38 in a 2005 Acura SUV driven by Jared, 17, of Aurora, the students were in heavy fog when the crash occurred, state police said.
Authorities said the SUV ran a red light about 5:55 p.m. at Dement Road and hit the truck, which was turning left onto Route 38.
Liam, 16, of Aurora, was a passenger in the third row of the SUV. He said the front of the SUV crumpled under the truck upon impact, so he couldn't see his friends in the first and second rows.
"I thought they died right away -- all of them -- but I was just hoping that they didn't," Liam said Wednesday.
Seth, the front-seat passenger, was pronounced dead at the scene. Ally, who was on the left side in the second row, was pronounced dead at Rochelle Community Hospital.
Jared was taken to OSF St. Anthony Medical Center in Rockford. According to a statement the high school released Wednesday, he was in stable condition in the intensive care unit.
Liam, Cori and Hannah escaped major injury. Liam said he suffered only "two bad cuts" on his hands, while the other two sustained bruises from their seat belts.
The truck driver, 56-year-old Aleksander Smolcic of Des Plaines, was not injured nor cited, police said. Jared was ticketed for running the red light.
State police originally said all six occupants of the SUV were wearing seat belts, based on witness statements they took at the scene. But police later said the Ogle County coroner's office determined Ally was not wearing a seat belt.
Before school Wednesday morning, Aurora Central Catholic hosted a Mass attended by hundreds, including students from Rosary High School, Marmion Academy and West Aurora High School.
Ally's friend since first grade, 16-year-old Julie Pruneda of Aurora, said attending the Mass was "very difficult" and sad. But remembering the good spirit of the friend she considered a sister came easily.
"She's down-to-earth, always happy, always positive," Julie said about Ally.
Both students who died were well-liked, said Liam's mother, Heidi Doyle. Ally played softball and volleyball and also enjoyed basketball and hockey, friends said, while Seth played tennis and soccer.
"Lots of other kids from different schools knew them because they were pretty popular kids," Doyle said.
Connections among Central, Marmion and Rosary are especially strong, said Vicki Danklefsen, Rosary spokeswoman.
"It is a very tight-knit community because so many of the kids at all three of the Catholic high schools in Aurora went to grade school together," Danklefsen said.
Seth's classmate and Liam's cousin, Grace Torres of Aurora, said she enjoyed sitting near Seth in a computer-aided architectural drawing class. They would get into some arguments in what Grace described as "a love/hate relationship."
But on Tuesday, Grace said she baked peanut butter cookies for Seth and another classmate before hearing about the crash.
"He was just one of those kids that always brightened up everyone's day," Grace said.
Aurora Central Catholic canceled after-school practices and activities and offered priests, guidance department staff members and grief counselors during the day Wednesday to help students comprehend the loss of two of their own.
The Illinois House held a moment of silence for the teenagers.
"Both were 16. Lost way too young," said state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, who said she coached one of them in fifth grade.
Ally's friends and mother said they were "in shock" after the accident that at first seemed surreal.
Liam said he spoke with a priest while at school in the sacrament of confession. The priest asked him to recall what was most remarkable about Seth and Ally.
"Seth probably was the most confident kid I know," Liam said. "Ally, she was just a goofball and she was always super happy."
The best way to honor the two teens' memory, the priest told Liam, is to bring to life their best traits.
"Father told me to try to be confident and goofy and try to carry on (the memory of) Seth and Ally through that," Liam said. "It won't be the same without Ally laughing in the hall all the time and Seth messing with people."
Friends and relatives of Ally and Seth set up separate fundraising websites to help pay funeral expenses. Both can be found at gofundme.com by typing "Ally Bradford" or "Seth Egger" in the search bar marked with the magnifying glass.
State police said they are continuing to investigate the crash as family and friends continue their prayers.
"She was such a motivator," Ally's softball teammate and Yorkville High School student Keaton Rodriguez said. "Everyone loved Ally."