In their own words: Close friends of students killed in car crash describe amazing friends, teammates

MIDDLETON, Wis. — At Middleton High School this week, homecoming plans will include a theme of remembrance for three current and former classmates, their lives cut short far too soon.

On October 2, Madison West senior and former MHS student Simon Bilessi and two Middleton High seniors, Evan Kratochwill and Jack Miller, were killed in a fiery crash. A driver rear-ended their car while they were stopped to turn left on West Mineral Point Road in the town of Middleton. The 30-year-old driver, whom police have not yet identified, is facing pending charges while hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

Wednesday morning, three of the students’ closest friends gathered to share stories about their classmates. Mason Sommers, Devan Utter, and Griffin Ward share their recollections:*

In their friends’ words

Mason: They were amazing people, really. They would come out every day just doing the best that they could; always give 100% to everything they did. They were just so nice. Always caring and loving; always there for anybody who needed it.

Devan: They were very free-spirited, loved life, lived it to the fullest. Was there for everyone no matter their relation or circumstances.

Griffin: The whole school knew each of them. All of them were outgoing and obviously the whole school as a movement is just so supportive and all together. For them to be a part of Middleton High School is just, something else.

Mason: (Jack) played soccer all four years he was at MHS. He was just an amazing teammate, an amazing leader. I know he was captain of his team. We’re gonna miss him.

Griffin: Evan was also a part of cross country for all four years. He would have got his varsity later this year.

Mason: Simon was also a soccer player. When he moved here in 7th grade I played soccer with him every day till the final day. He was an amazing player, definitely someone I looked up to as a soccer player.

Devan: I met Jack on the first day of school, in advisory. Everyone’s referring to them as the bright light. He lit up the room the second I walked in, and continued to do that.

Griffin: One story about Jack: we started freshman year with soccer tryouts. I didn’t really know him, he was new to the district. He didn’t have much friends, so on the first day of school he was sitting alone against a tree outside…So me and my friends invited him over for lunch and he was instantly so charismatic. That’s not something you see with someone new to school. I was frankly jealous of how quickly he made so many friends and how many he has right now, it’s just–he was a good guy.

Were there other stories they wanted to share?

Griffin: Too many to count.

Mason: There’s just so many. We would just sit in the car after school everyday just talking. Just all the things they said, just one of them would say something stupid and we’d all start laughing. Those are the days we’ll never forget.

Homecoming plans

Homecoming events will go on this week, Middleton school officials said, after students agreed that’s what their departed classmates would have wanted.

But themes have been canceled, with a few exceptions that put tributes to their departed classmates front and center. Thursday will be jersey day, and Friday will be black-out for seniors.

“He loved his jerseys,” Mason said. “He had a bunch of them, he loved to wear them.”

“At each of our homecoming events, we will have tribute to our students and will remember them,” Middleton High School Principal Peg Shoemaker said. “Last night, we had a beautiful tribute by our soccer team for our students.”

In a match Tuesday night, the boys soccer team unveiled black shirts they wore under their jerseys, with Jack, Evan and Simon’s names printed on the front of the shirt.

“We have the deepest sympathies for the families of Evan, Jack and Simon, who were dear members of our Middleton High School Community,” Shoemaker said. “They were able to bring a sense of friendship, inclusiveness, belonginess to all members of our senior class in our school.”

The decision to move forward with homecoming was a direct reflection of what all three students would have wanted, their friends said.

“To be able to share their name and all the great memories and stories that they contributed to our lives is an honor in itself,” Mason explained. “So to be able to honor them throughout this whole week is huge.”

Editor’s note: Some quotes lightly edited for brevity.