Teen tries to kill himself after death of friend, reports say

Dave Haney and Steve Stein

A Washington teenager apparently tried to kill himself Thursday night by ramming the same tree that his friend and Washington Community High School classmate fatally crashed into last weekend.

Police said the injured 17-year-old was headed west on Woodford County Road 1950 N about 11 p.m. Thursday when he drove off the road and into the tree.

The unbelted teen suffered facial cuts from the crash, but he managed to walk to a nearby house where the occupants called 911, according to Woodford County Sheriff’s Department officials.

The youth told a Washburn police officer who also responded to the crash that he intended to hit the tree, the crash was no accident.

Police found the letters "RIP EK" written on the car’s windows and a marker on the front seat. The "EK" referred to is Evan Knoblauch, also of Washington, who died in a single-vehicle crash Jan. 5 at the same location.

A funeral Mass for Knoblauch was Thursday morning at the Five Points Washington community center. More than 1,000 mourners filled the Caterpillar Performing Arts Center, many lining the walls and filling aisles and hallways.

Knoblauch, 18, of 805 Crestview Drive, Washington, a popular three-sport athlete and captain of the football team this fall, was driving to his grandmother’s house to wash her car for church when he was killed about 3 p.m. Jan. 5.

Neither alcohol nor drugs played a role in the crash, authorities said, and Knoblauch was wearing a seat belt.

The injured teen was taken to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, where he was treated and released Friday. Police don’t believe either drugs or alcohol was a factor in Thursday night’s crash.

A Woodford County sheriff’s official said such incidents aren’t common, but they have occurred.

Dean Steiner, director of behavioral health services at Methodist Medical Center in Peoria, said parents should watch diligently for signs of problems when their child is trying to deal with the death of a friend or classmate.

"While the most outward sign is social withdrawal, it’s also important to listen to what your child is saying," Steiner said. "Things like, ‘I wish that was me,’ or ‘I may not be around here much longer’ need to be kept in context, but they shouldn’t be ignored."

The best thing parents can do, Steiner said, is keep open the lines of communication with their child.

"Talk to your child. Ask how he or she is doing. Let him or her know you’re there if they need to talk," Steiner said. "Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, to ask about their child’s feelings, and to express their concerns."

If parents or children feel overwhelmed, Steiner said, it’s a good idea to meet with a therapist or the family’s doctor.

Dave Haney can be reached at (309) 686-3181 or Steve Stein can be reached at (309) 686-3114 or