Lakota community comes together after fatal wreck
WestChesterBuzz.com will count down the area’s top 12 stories of 2012 this month, concluding with West Chester most discussed topic of the year on Sunday, Dec. 30.
STORY POSTED FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 2012
Just a week ago, Lakota West junior Ezekiel “Zeke” Stepaniak experienced a typical day.
He met his closest friends in Jason French’s classroom before the school day began – laughing, joking and vociferously talking.
Later, in Michelle Day’s English class, he dozed off and was awakened by Day spraying him with a water bottle, the class erupting with laughter.
Then it was off to boost the spirits of his fellow co-workers at McDonalds – where he made days working at a fast food restaurant fun, rather than a chore.
The end of the day was spent hanging out with friends and family.
And on it went – sleep, wake up then repeat.
But, last Friday night, things changed.
Stepaniak’s life was unexpectedly taken after he wrecked his car where West Chester and Liberty Township meet at the intersection of Hamilton-Mason Road and Ohio 747. Four other Lakota teens, including Lakota West sophomore Ashley Stacy, were in the car. After suffering serious injuries, Stacy was taken to Miami Valley Hospital.
The news spread throughout Saturday once Zeke was pronounced dead by the Hamilton County Coroner’s Office.
Zeke’s friends, juniors Zac Payne, Steven Miner and Jonathan Jung, were among the first people building a memorial at the crash site, which is located along the fence of Heritage Elementary School.
“It didn’t feel real at all,” Payne said of setting up the memorial.
“We all gathered around and it was just silent for the longest time. You hugged everybody you saw. People you hadn’t talked to in years were coming up to you to make sure that we were all right.”
It was Zeke, who helped Payne feel welcome after his family moved from Indianapolis when he was in the fifth grade. Zeke, who lived five houses down, invited the “new kid” to trick-or-treat with him. They remained close friends since.
“I keep telling everyone that it could have been anyone,” Payne said. “If you want to end on bad terms with somebody, no matter how long it’s been or what the cause was, always know that it could be worse. We just realized how much we took for granted.” (more…)