Wilmington teen remembered after fatal car wreck
By Janet Lundquist firstname.lastname@example.org March 14, 2013 5:52PM
People head to their cars during visitation for Matthew Bailey at Freitag-Reeves & Baskerville Funeral Home Thursday, March 14, 2013, in Wilmington. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 16, 2013 4:12PM
It was a day no one anticipated and no one wanted.
Mourners tilted their heads down against a soft-falling snow Thursday afternoon as they prepared to say goodbye to a 14-year-old boy.
Four days before what would have been his 15th birthday, family and friends crowded into Freitag-Reeves & Baskerville Funeral Home in Wilmington for a visitation for Matthew Bailey, one of four teenagers who died this week after the car they were riding in plunged into Forked Creek.
News media kept their distance from the event, and those arriving Thursday afternoon politely declined to talk to a reporter.
Wilmington police received a report about midnight Monday that the teens were missing, officials said.
Family and friends of the teens spent the night searching for them, but no trace of them was found until the next morning. About 7:20 a.m. Tuesday, a school bus driver crossing the Ballou Road bridge over the creek, just west of Warner Bridge Road, noticed something amiss.
The guardrail on one side of the bridge was torn off, and the 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse that 17-year-old Cheyenne Fender’s parents bought her was submerged in the creek, nothing but half of the rear wheels sticking up out of the water.
Inside, divers found the bodies of Micalah Sembach, 15, Cody Carter, 15, Bailey and Fender. All four teens drowned, Will County Coroner Patrick K. O’Neil said.
Police still are trying to determine what caused the crash and say they are waiting on toxicology reports, which could take several weeks, to confirm whether alcohol or drugs were a factor.
Nicknamed “Lil Man,” Bailey moved to Wilmington when he was in seventh grade, and was a freshman at Wilmington High School.
His mother, Geri Cameron, said Bailey enjoyed spending time outdoors — hunting, fishing and camping.
“When I heard about the crash I couldn’t believe he was gone. I didn’t want it to be true,” Cameron said. “He was a real good kid. He was my heart.”
Many of the people arriving for the wake Thursday were teenagers. One group of girls walked in wearing identical T-shirts in the high school’s colors, purple, black and white.
The mood at Wilmington High School was somber Wednesday. Nearly the entire student body of 460 wore black, school administrators said, and about half of them took advantage of counselors available in the school library.
Before the end of the school day Wednesday, which was an early dismissal because of a planned teacher institute day, the student body gathered in the gymnasium for a brief memorial service and moment of silence. As friends of the four teens lighted candles in their memory, the entire student body silently rose to their feet on their own, Wilmington School District Superintendent Jay Plese said.
Bailey’s family will hold a private funeral service Friday, and interment will be in Resurrection Cemetery in Romeoville.
Visitation for Carter will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the R.W. Patterson Funeral Home Braidwood Chapel, 401 E. Main St. in Braidwood, followed by a funeral service at 1 p.m. Interment will be in Custer Township Cemetery in Custer Park.
Visitation for Fender will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Anderson Memorial Chapel, 606 Townhall Drive in Romeoville. Cremation rites will be accorded.
Visitation for Sembach will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Freitag-Reeves & Baskerville Funeral Home, 700 East Kahler Road in Wilmington. Preferred memorials may be made as gifts in her memory to the Wilmington High School Music Boosters, 209U Wildcat Court, Wilmington, IL 60481.
Contributing: Brian Stanley