‘They would want us to keep going’: Three students killed in crash honored during homecoming

MIDDLETON, Wis. – Homecoming usually brings a community together.

That’s even more true in Middleton as classmates rally to pay tribute to three students lost in a car crash days ago.

On Oct. 2, Madison West senior and former MHS student Simon Bilessi and two Middleton High seniors, Evan Kratochwill and Jack Miller, were killed when a driver rear-ended their car. The 30-year-old driver, whom police have not yet identified, is facing pending charges while hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

On Wednesday, Middleton’s homecoming parade had the usual firetrucks, floats and band, but also students carrying signs honoring the three students with notes such as “LLS, LLJ, LLE.”

“That’s long live Simon, long live Jack, long live Evan,” explained Mia Pence, a friend of the students. “Everybody knew them, everybody loved them. They’re going to be missed so much.”

She and classmates will be selling wristbands, with proceeds going to the students’ families.

Miller and Bilessi played soccer. Kratochwill ran cross country all four years.

“We’re really, really going to miss him,” said Brian Finnel, coach of Middleton’s boys cross country team. “Really what’s was special about him, he would reach out, talk to people running by themselves and standing by themselves.”

At the parade, Kratochwill’s team was standing for him, many carrying signs in his honor which will be taken to each meet for the rest of the year. On Thursday, rather than their usual races, Finnel said the varsity squad would try to run Kratochwill’s personal record in a JV race as a tribute.

“It’s so special,” Finnel said. “Words really can’t describe what it means me when you see guys step up and everyone take care of each other as a family.”

Now there’s a team made of the whole community backing Kratochwill, Miller and Bilessi.

“They were so kind. All three were so kind,” said Hadley Williams, a Middleton High School senior and friend.

“Just the three of them all together, they were the most contagious, happy people,” Pence said.

Without their easy smiles, it’s hard to sit with the tragedy, but classmates kept moving with their friends in mind.

“I know me, personally, I didn’t want to go to homecoming. I don’t want to be here right now to be honest. I want to be at home and in bed,” Williams said. “But I know that all three would be mad if we stopped doing this. They would want us to keep going and be happy and just remember them for all their good things.”

The spirit of togetherness is keeping them strong.

“We’ve been really thankful and appreciative of the support from the community,” Finnel said. It’s been a tough few days. Thank you to everyone.”

Homecoming events will go on this week, but themes have been canceled, with a few exceptions that pay tribute to the departed classmates. Thursday will be jersey day, with a friend noting Miller loved jerseys. Friday will be black-out for seniors.

“At each of our homecoming events, we will have tribute to our students and will remember them,” Middleton High School Principal Peg Shoemaker said.