(MCT) — The family and friends of three teens killed in a crash near Oswego spent Tuesday in mourning, gathering at the victims' homes to leave flowers, light a candle or gather around the kitchen table to remember.
At the Plainfield home of Brian Herrera, 19, where the words "Family and Love — Where Life Begins and Never Ends" are stenciled above the living-room couch, his younger brother smiled as he talked about how much he resembled his older brother.
"He was like my model," said Christian Herrera, 12. "It's really devastating right now that this happened."
Brian Herrera, who was working two jobs to save money for college, was killed along with two friends Monday afternoon when he turned in front of a tractor-trailer near Oswego, authorities said.
The crash Monday also killed passengers Tyler Montgomery, 19, an aspiring music producer from Plainfield, and his girlfriend, Alexis Banuelos, 18, of Naperville, who hoped to become a social worker.
Family members say Herrera, who worked jobs at a restaurant and a clothing store, was going to drop off Montgomery and Banuelos at her parents' house for dinner when the crash happened about 3:15 p.m. at Schlapp Road and Illinois Highway 126. State police said Herrera was driving south in a black Ford when he pulled in front of the eastbound truck, which wound up on top of the car.
"It was a bad split-second decision," said state Trooper Jason Shrake.
All three teens had attended Plainfield North High School, where Montgomery graduated in 2010 and Banuelos a year later. The couple, who first met in Heritage Grove Middle School and began dating roughly five years ago, were enrolled at Joliet Junior College, friends and family said.
Herrera, who attended Plainfield North but did not graduate there, was working two jobs to save money to attend UCLA, his dream school, though family said he hadn't been accepted. They described him as "the clown of the family" and a natural-born salesman who convinced his mom to buy the family's beloved dog, a papillon-bichon mix named Daisy.
On Tuesday, friends and family also went to the crash scene, where broken glass, metal and other debris remained strewn over a 200-foot-area along Illinois 126 and a highway sign was sheared off its base.
Ryna Jerrick, a lifelong friend of Montgomery, laid flowers at the site.
"He was the best kind of friend you could ask for," Jerrick said. "He always got along with everybody."
Banuelos' parents also went to see the spot.
The youngest of three sisters, Banuelos was a diminutive and sweet young woman who enjoyed taking walks in the woods and wanted to help others, friends and family said.
"She was a bright, intelligent young lady who loved life, loved her family and friends, and always had a big heart and would help anyone," said her father, Ricardo, who said he had "no ill will" toward the semi driver.
The driver, Scott Fernatt, 45, of Hodgkins, was taken to Rush-Copley Medical Center for injuries that were not life-threatening, authorities said.
Police searching the wreckage found Tyler's cellphone, scrolled through his contacts to "Dad" and placed a call to Mike Montgomery, Tyler's father said.
Mike Montgomery said his son had loved music since he was a child, using a toy
piano to try to replicate melodies he'd heard. His son owned four guitars, a drum set, keyboards and had set up a recording studio in their basement where he was working on a second CD for his rap group Midwest Mathmatics.
Montgomery said he'd seen Tyler earlier in the day Monday, stopping by the convenience store where the teen worked to buy a diet Coke.
His son and Alexis loved each other very much, he said.
"If there was any grace of God, it was the fact that they went together," he said.
Freelance reporter Gary Gibula contributed.