Paul McKibben reports
C.J. Hilliard visited a makeshift memorial Sunday afternoon to drop off a personal memento for an old friend.
“It’s one of the most important things I have,” Hilliard said about his freshman year football letter “X” from St. Xavier High School where he is a sophomore and a running back. “So (I) got to give it to somebody that needed it. I don’t need it anymore. He needs it more than I do.”
Written in marker on the X was “RIP Zeke.”
The keepsake was one of many items mourners have left at the corner of Ohio 747 and Hamilton Mason Road along a fence by a large field at Heritage Elementary. Since Friday night, the Lakota community has been grieving about the death of Lakota West High School junior Ezekiel “Zeke” Stepaniak of Liberty Township.
The Butler County Sheriff’s Office said Stepaniak was attempting to turn onto Hamilton-Mason Road from southbound Ohio 747 when the 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt he was driving was struck by a 2001 Cadillac driven by James Moore of Liberty Township who was traveling north on Ohio 747. Authorities were dispatched at approximately 10:56 p.m. Friday.
Lakota West sophomore Ashley Stacy, 16, was treated for serious injuries at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. Stepaniak, 17, was pronounced dead by the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office Saturday. Lakota Local Schools said a total of five Lakota West students were involved in the accident.
While mourners stopped by the intersection, more than 50 people gathered at a library at Lakota West Sunday afternoon. Mostly teens sat in a circle to talk. Principal Richard Hamilton said the school brought in grief counselors.
“Grief is tough for us and it’s even tougher for a 17-year-old,” Hamilton said. “So they’re working through some issues with them. I think last time I was in there they were talking about positive memories and they’re talking about how the emotions that they’re going to go through and things like that.”
Grief counselors will be the school all day on Monday. Hamilton predicted “we’re probably going to have a hard week this week and after the week’s out, it’ll get a little bit better.” He said the school was considering sending home information about teen grief that parents can use.
Hamilton described Stepaniak as popular with lots of friends as well as being was a good student. He played in-line hockey and bowled. He also enjoyed video games, super hero comics, basketball and football. A video game controller was placed at the memorial.
Lakota West parent Jim Novak of Liberty Township said the memorial started to be built on Friday night and gradually grew. A candlelight vigil occurred at the site Saturday night. Novak said about 300 people attended.
Chris Gay, 20, a Lakota West graduate who now attends the University of Cincinnati, bowled with Stepaniak. Gay left a bowling towel at the memorial. Gay said Stepaniak was fun loving who “just made everybody happy that he was around.”