'A void in my heart': Memorial to Buffalo Grove students remains as investigation continues

The flowers are decaying and the ink on homemade posters has faded, but a memorial to four Buffalo Grove High School students killed in a three-car crash last month in Wheeling remains - and people continue to visit.

Meanwhile, the investigation into their deaths remains open as police await the results of toxicology tests. Those could take up to six months to arrive, Wheeling Police Chief Jamie Dunne said Monday.

Eighteen-year-old Richard De Ita of Wheeling, 17-year-old Kevin R. Hernandez-Teran of Wheeling, 16-year-old Jesus Rodriguez of Wheeling and 17-year-old Ricky Barcenas of Arlington Heights died after the three-vehicle collision at Dundee and Schoenbeck roads on May 16.

The four friends were in the same Ford Explorer, along with a fifth teen who survived. De Ita was driving and may have disregarded a red light, police have said. Speed may have been a factor, too.

The drivers of the other vehicles involved in the crash survived.

In the days after the crash, hundreds of people assembled near the northeast corner of Dundee and Schoenbeck roads to mourn the teens. They brought bouquets of flowers, balloons, memorial candles, stuffed animals, crosses and more to pay their respects, laying most of the objects against a wooden fence.

Many also rested flowers against a light pole brought down by the crash.

The damaged light pole has since been removed. But an eerie row of dried-out flowers, most of their colors gone, is still in the grass there.

The objects left at the fence haven't been removed, either. And someone has tidied up the hallowed space, stacking extinguished candles in two relatively neat rows against the base of the fence. Other candles have been stuffed into plastic bags.

Not all of the memorial is in good shape. One of the posters on the fence has partially come loose and has curled with time. And small pieces of glass from broken candles litter the grass.

Still, the memorial is important to people like 16-year-old Zayn Khan, a rising Buffalo Grove High junior who knew all four teens but was especially good friends with Rodriguez and Barcenas. Khan said he often drives by the site and has stopped repeatedly to pay his respects.

"What happened to them was a tragedy," Khan said. "(It) left a void in my heart."

Wheeling has an ordinance governing memorials on public rights of way, and the one on Dundee Road doesn't violate its rules. The memorial can remain for 90 days before removal by the village, the ordinance states.

"(It's) all good right now," Dunne said.

Khan said he hopes the memorial remains in place after the 90 days allowed in the ordinance.

"It has a greater impact ... than going to the cemetery," Khan said. "(It) shows the impact that they had on their families and shows the community how much they were cared for."

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  White crosses and photos are among the items memorializing Richard De Ita and his friends - Kevin R. Hernandez-Teran, Jesus Rodriguez and Ricky Barcenas - at the Wheeling intersection where they were fatally injured in a car crash last month. Russell Lissau/
  Extinguished memorial candles are stacked near where four suburban teens were fatally injured last month in a car crash in Wheeling. Russell Lissau/
  A row of decaying flowers that had been laid against a since-removed light pole remains near the intersection where four suburban teens were fatally injured in a Wheeling crash last month. Russell Lissau/
  Stuffed toys are among the items left at the memorial for four Buffalo Grove High School students who died after a three-car crash in Wheeling last month. Russell Lissau/
  A soccer ball surrounded by loving messages is among the items that make up the memorial where four suburban teens were killed in Wheeling. Russell Lissau/
Russell Lissau/rlissau@dailyherald.comA white cross, a pair of sneakers and other items were left at the memorial for Ricky Barcenas and his friends - Richard De Ita, Kevin R. Hernandez-Teran and Jesus Rodriguez - in Wheeling.
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