BURLINGTON — Tears of sorrow, moments of laughter and silent reflection helped mourners gathered at Burlington High School Tuesday night remember the lives of three young men cut short by a fatal car crash in Walworth County over the Memorial Day weekend.
Mervin Langley, a Clinical Social Worker from Burlington, told hundreds at the gathering in the gym that they may feel numb, angry and even depressed.
“I wish there were words that could take away the pain you are feeling right now. It’s not possible,” Langley said.
Killed in the crash were: Jason Davis, 17, the driver, a junior at Burlington High School; Landen Brown, 20, the front passenger, a 2015 BHS graduate; and Hunter Morby, 17, the rear passenger, also a BHS junior.
Troy Everson, a BHS teacher, presented the family of Davis and Morby fingerprints taken for a class project just Friday. Everson said Davis was lighthearted young man who’s life at 17 was too short.
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“He thrived on his sarcasm, his humor and his wit,” EVerson said.
Everson said Davis loved science and read Davis’ class paper on his humorous reflections of witnessing a live surgery and the audience laughed with him. Everson fought back his grief at the podium at times when describing the personality of the young students.
“Jason, I have no words except to use yours to describe the time I and your friends at Burlington High School were able to know you. Thanks for the experience, we’ll miss you and rest well, Jason.”
2015 BHS graduate Landen Brown’s former theater teacher, Carrie Fidler, described how he loved to be on stage even being fearless to play a French maid.
“For better or worse, he would do anything on stage,” Fidler said.
Fidler said Brown was committed to supporting the arts at school events even after he graduated.
“He was always in our audience, laughing,” Fidler said.
Brown also was compassionate about human rights issues behind the scenes, Fidler said.
“He stood up in front of his peers and advocated for the right thing not the easy things. Now we have to be courageous and we know that we can lean on one another,” Fidler said.
Everson talked about Morby's humorous part in the school play “Les Miserables” and read his humble college essay.
“I will promise you I will not disappoint,” Everson read in part. “I’ve met so many great people who have helped and guided me through this crazy little thing we call life.”
Everson closed with some of Morby’s own words.
“Hunter would never be undone, including tonight,” Everson said. Hunter we are grateful for you for bringing laughter and joy into our lives. But we’re equally as sad because we cannot express that with you face to face.”
Away from blame
Investigators have said speed played a factor in the crash against a tree on Cranberry Road in the Town of Lyons in Walworth County on Sunday. Langley said people need answers but blame is not helpful.
“The truth is none of this makes sense what we need to do is uphold each other and this is not a time for self blame or blaming anyone else,” Langley said.
Langley said everyone will mourn these men’s lives in their own way.
“The most important thing to do is listen and even to realize for some they don’t know what words they are trying to say. Many people don’t know how to express their feelings,” Langley said “So we have to listen, listen and listen and sometimes help them identify what they are feeling and bear with them.”
The gathering concluded in the stadium where hundreds of luminary bags written with statements from the mourners were placed around the track. With no wind present, the mourners passed by each bag, some hugged and shed tears while even more walked the complete track in grief and solidarity.
Earlier in the day many students made their own trip to the makeshift memorial at the crash scene on Cranberry Road east of Berndt Road in the Town of Lyons. Flowers, pictures and personal mementos, including a graduation mortar board with an attached note, had been laid at the foot of huge tree blackened by the fire.
Classmate Shelby Spencer-Horton said she had to come to the site — even if it was difficult, with burned pieces of the car nearby.
“I have mixed emotions,” she said as she teared up.
Spencer-Horton worked with Morby in the school play “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
“He gets into it and he’s really good. He is a good singer,” she said. “He’s so friendly, and he had no enemies.”
Spencer-Horton’s mother drove her there from Burlington to pay her respects as she works through her daughter’s grief.
“Something drew her here. She started getting chills down this road,” her mother said. “My husband said I shouldn’t take her to this because it is traumatizing, but she has counselors in school that she can talk to.”
A green ribbon was tied around the trunk of the tree. Some fellow students vowed on social media, after hearing about the crash, to wear green Tuesday to remember their friends lost in the tragedy.
“Green is a good color,” Spencer-Horton said. “It’s a happier color.”
Davis’ friend Mitchell Spencer went alone to the crash site Tuesday to pay his respects. They worked as lifeguards together at Timber Ridge Lodge and Water Park in Lake Geneva.
“He was a good friend, too,” Spencer said. “He was never in a bad mood, always happy. He had a good energy that was great to be around.”
Story was updated.