Crash into creek takes lives of 4 Wilmington teens
By Brian Stanley and Janet Lundquist Staff Writers March 12, 2013 9:53AM
Updated: April 14, 2013 6:20AM
When Micalah Sembach wasn’t home at 5 p.m. Monday night, her parents sent her a text message.
“If you don’t call me back in five minutes, I’m calling the police,” the message read, according to Rita Johns of Plainfield, Sembach’s godmother.
They didn’t hear from her, and they called the police.
Friends and family spent the night searching for the 15-year-old Wilmington High School freshman, keeping in touch via text message and posting updates on Facebook. Tuesday morning, the teen’s aunt saw the emergency vehicles speeding toward the scene of the crash and followed them, Johns said.
“I’m hoping to wake up from this nightmare,” Johns said, standing outside the Sembachs’ house on Kankakee Street.
An only child, Micalah played the oboe in the school’s marching band, Johns said.
“She was a super kid,” said her father, Mike Sembach. “She was well-behaved.”
Micaleh was one of four Wilmington teens killed after their car overturned into Forked Creek on Monday night near Wilmington. The other victims were identified by the Will County coroner’s office as Cody Carter, 15; Matthew Bailey, 14; and Cheyenne Fender, 17, all of Wilmington.
Will County Coroner Patrick K. O’Neil said autopsies performed Tuesday afternoon showed all four victims drowned. Their manner of death will be determined when police crash reports are submitted and toxicology results are returned in two to three weeks, O’Neil said.
Will County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Ken Kaupas said at a Tuesday press conference that the teens were reported missing around midnight to Wilmington police. Around 7:20 a.m. Tuesday, a passing school bus driver and students noticed a guardrail on Ballou Road had been crashed through and saw the back wheel of a car sticking up in the water. The crash happened approximately a quarter-mile west of Warner Bridge Road.
Dive teams from local fire departments confirmed the car was the 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse that is registered to a relative of one of the victims. Authorities did not disclose who owned the car, and did not say who was driving.
“There is water on the roadway that has receded even since last night that could’ve been a factor (in the crash),” Kaupas noted. Divers standing near the crash site had water up to their chins.
Kaupas said divers found all of the windows were rolled up and all of the teens were inside. There are no preliminary indications drugs or alcohol factored in the crash.
By 10 a.m. the vehicle was removed and deputies from the coroner’s office had arrived.
Kaupas said all of the teens were “friends” and had been reported together Monday afternoon.
Superintendent Jay Plese said it’s likely every one of the 440 students attending Wilmington High School knew the teens.
The district has counselors available for students, Plese said, and sent information home to students and their parents about the incident.
“A child not responding (to texts and calls), it would be out of character. It would send chills through any parent,” Plese said
As the south guardrail was pulled from the creek at 2:30 p.m., four crosses with the victims’ names were being put up nearby.
Amanda Haldorson was waiting to pray for the teens.
“I didn’t know them, but everyone in (Wilmington) heard about it,” she said. “We’re so close-knit. It’s so terrible.”
Within minutes, Bailey’s cross had an orange Wilson Sport ballcap on it, while Sembach’s and Carter’s had stuffed animals and Fender’s had an angel pendant.
Lauren Wright, a sophomore at Wilmington High School, said that she grew up with all four of the teens. She said the school made an announcement about the four teens’ death at lunchtime and held a moment of silence in their honor.
“It was really sad and everyone was quiet at school,” Wright said.
Stephen Lapinsky, who said he had been dating Sembach for a year, said, “Micalah was her own special brand of weirdness,” which her cousins thought described her perfectly.
Lapinsky and Sembach met at Wilmington High School where she was in the color guard and enjoyed science classes, with plans to become a biologist.
Jeanna Andrus, whose daughter grew up with Sembach, said Micalah left the house at 4 p.m. and was expected home by 5 p.m.
“Her mom called the police at 5:30 because she was the kind of kid that if (they) didn’t hear from her, they knew something was wrong,” Andrus said. “The moment they could make (a missing persons) report, they did.”
Wilmington Mayor Marty Orr’s voice wavered as he talked about the teens, and said he knew some of them personally. In a small town like Wilmington, he said, everyone probably knew them.
“These kids have touched everybody’s life in some way,” Orr said. “We’ll cope. That’s the beauty of Wilmington. We’ll lean on each other, we’ll get through this.”
Contributing: Cindy Cain, Casey Toner