Last year, two Glenbard West High School football stars were critically injured in a DuPage County car crash, an accident that staggered the school.
One of the students, 17-year-old Pierre Washington-Steel, died six days later, triggering an outpouring of grief that saw students wearing bracelets in his honor and dedicating a football game to his memory.
This week, authorities dropped a bombshell, charging the surviving student, 18-year-old Demarco Whitley, with raping a Rolling Meadows girl scarcely an hour before the 7:45 p.m. crash that claimed his friend’s life and nearly took his.
But authorities also made another stunning allegation, contending that Washington-Steel also participated in the Jan. 29, 2010, attack on a 15-year-old girl in a church parking lot in the northwest suburb.
The girl told authorities a day later that Washington-Steel — whom she knew —and Whitley had driven her to the parking lot, then both teens had sexually assaulted her in the car, police and Cook County prosecutors said Wednesday as Whitley appeared in court.
The girl told authorities the two teens dropped her off a short time later at a friend’s home.
The two Glenbard West students were badly hurt about an hour after the alleged attack when their car — which police say was driven by Washington-Steel — ran off Swift Road in unincorporated DuPage County and slammed into a utility pole. There were no indication drugs or alcohol were involved.
Washington-Steel, a Glenbard West senior and star running back on the Hilltoppers’ powerhouse football team, died on Feb. 4 of the injuries he received in the crash.
Whitley, a junior who also played running back, remained hospitalized for nearly two months before recovering sufficiently to be released, authorities said.
He was arrested Tuesday morning on his way to Glenbard West, then charged with felony criminal sexual assault.
Whitley wasn’t charged for more than a year after the reported attack, in part because investigators were waiting for him to recover from his injuries, Rolling Meadows police said.
DNA and other forensic tests also needed to be finished, said Rolling Meadows Cmdr. William Arneson.
“We also were waiting on the lab work to be completed. It unfortunately took nearly a year,” Arneson said.
Whitley was charged after DNA evidence was processed from several items, including a condom found in the church parking lot and a pair of nylons worn by the 15-year-old girl, said Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
The girl told investigators Whitley wore the condom when he allegedly assaulted her, Simonton said, adding the teen also said Washington-Steel ordered her to perform oral sex on him.
Following his arrest, Whitley gave a written statement implicating himself in the assault, Simonton said.
During his Wednesday court appearance, Whitley was ordered held on $50,000 bail. If convicted, he faces a maximum 15-year prison term.
Neither Whitley nor his family could be reached Wednesday for comment.
The charges against Whitley and the claims that Washington-Steel also was involved in the attack are a startling development following the crash that rocked the Glen Ellyn school.
Washington-Steel had transferred to Glenbard West in the fall of 2009 after his previous school, Driscoll Catholic High School, had closed. At that school, he had played football, baseball and also ran track.
Previously, he had attended Loyola Academy in Wilmette, but had been asked to withdraw from that school in 2007 for disciplinary reasons.
At Glenbard West, he immediately became a popular figure, helping lead the football team to second place in the state’s Class 7A division.
“Kids really liked him. He had a real concern for other students,” Glenbard West Principal Jane Thorsen said last year.
When he was injured, at least 500 students and friends gathered for a candlelight vigil at the school’s Duchon Field, where the Hilltoppers play their home games.
After he died, hundreds more attended funeral services for him at a Hillside Church. In the months after his death, some Glenbard West students wore black wristbands in his memory.
The Hilltoppers dedicated the seventh football game of last season to him in honor of the number 7 jersey he wore. After they won, the coach hoisted a portrait of Washington-Steel above his head, according to news reports.
In Glenbard West’s yearbook, a page is dedicated to Washington-Steel. “Forever in our hearts,” it reads.
His family couldn’t be reached Wednesday for comment.