Family: Lincoln-Way Central athlete’s death ‘so freaky’
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org November 20, 2012 11:28AM
Updated: November 20, 2012 11:18PM
Austin Lempera was an “all-around nice kid.” He had a distinctive laugh, was always smiling, and was “well-liked by everyone,” according to his fellow students at Lincoln-Way Central High School.
That made his sudden death Monday night all the more difficult to accept for family, friends and classmates who knew him.
Austin, 16, the son of Constance and Steven Lempera, died Monday after suffering a heart attack while exercising in his New Lenox Township home, authorities said.
Austin was jumping rope in the basement before he collapsed and was found by his mother, who went to get him for dinner, according to Austin’s brother, Westly Lempera. Will County sheriff’s police said the teen was taken to Silver Cross Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“They could not get his heart to pump,” his brother and only sibling said.
The attending physician said nothing appeared to be suspicious and it appeared to be a case of Austin having a cardiac arrhythmia condition, perhaps undiagnosed, according to police.
Westly Lempera, 22, said his brother was “very physically fit” and had a major physical exam just two weeks ago.
“This is so freaky,” he said.
Austin went to school Monday, then went to work at his dad’s business, Future Environmental, in Mokena.
Jumping rope was part of Austin’s normal routine, Westly said.
Friends and family gathered at the home Tuesday and celebrated his life, Westly said.
“He loved life. There was never a dull moment,” Westly said. “Everyone got along with him.”
Westly, home from Eastern Illinois University for Thanksgiving, said he was “so happy” that he was able to spend the weekend with his younger brother at a classic car show in Rosemont. The two were very close and had a lot in common, he said.
“He enjoyed his life,” Westly said. “If it was going to happen, the best way was to happen in our home. I hope he went peacefully.”
Austin, a junior at Lincoln-Way Center, was a reserve defensive lineman on the football team.
Brett Hefner, who coached Austin on the high school squad, said he was a “great kid who always had a smile on his face and always said, ‘Hi.’
“He was a tireless worker in the weight room. He loved the game of football and was very well-liked and respected by the Lincoln-Way family,” Hefner said.
Students said Austin’s death came too soon after the death of another athlete in March. Tom Schuman, 18, a senior at the time, was found unresponsive in his bed March 31 in his family’s New Lenox home.
Will County Coroner Patrick K. O’Neil said Schuman died of natural causes — an undiagnosed cardiac condition. The son of Dan and Lynn Schuman was a star baseball player and golfer for Lincoln-Way Central, and his sudden death also shocked the community.
“This is really hard to take. It’s scary,” junior Justin Reif said of the teen deaths. “He was always so nice to everyone.”
“Everyone is having a hard time, but everyone is coming together,” Kyle Kamp, another junior, said. “This could happen to anyone. He was a great kid, an all-around good kid.”
Madison Balsitis, who was in honors classes with Austin at Martino Junior High School and during their first two years of high school, said it was “hard seeing everyone around school so upset.”
But school officials were doing a “good job of getting everyone through it,” she said.
“His friends are really torn up about this. Most of them didn’t come to school or spent time with counselors,” she said. “A lot of kids are really confused. He was a really good kid.”
In a statement issued by Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210, Supt. Lawrence A. Wyllie called Austin “a fine student ... and a loyal Knight. He was a very hardworking student and a wonderful young man. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
Besides football, Westly said his younger brother enjoyed classic cars and cranking up the music on the 5,000-watt stereo in his Ford Excursion. He also liked boating, four-wheeling and family vacations, he said.
Westly planned to help his brother begin his college search. He knows he will miss him when he returns to EIU after the holiday.
“Who’s going to plow the driveway while I’m at school?” he said.
Information on services was not immediately available.
Contributing: Brian Stanley and Pat Disabato