ROYAL – Students in the Prairieview Elementary School in Royal have written down their memories of Brandon Siuts, 8, who was struck and killed by a car while he was skateboarding on a visit to friends in Champaign over the weekend.
Brandon's third-grade classmates wrote good-bye letters to him on Tuesday and asked Principal Victor White for permission to release balloons after his funeral with notes to Brandon attached.
"I've read a few but it's tough," White said. "They're real tearjerkers. They said they missed him, they missed hearing his funny jokes and they hoped he was happy in heaven. It's very sad. This is the hardest thing I've had to do. It's been a real tough week."
Brandon died Monday afternoon at Carle Foundation Hospital's surgical intensive care unit from traumatic head injuries, according to the coroner. He had been riding his skateboard in the 1600 block of Sheridan Road in Champaign Sunday afternoon when he was struck by a car. The automobile driver, McKinley Duncan, 22, of Champaign, initially left the scene, but returned within five or six minutes, police said. He was ticketed for leaving the scene of an accident and having no proof of insurance.
Brandon's father, Leslie Siuts, said his only son was a "very active kid" who was just getting into sports.
"He liked playing on his video games and he liked to trade Yu-Gi-Oh cards with his friends. We just got him a dirt bike. He would race home after school to get on his bike and ride around," said Siuts, a farmer from rural Urbana.
Siuts called his son his "right-hand man," saying Brandon liked to go wherever he did. Siuts said his son was just starting to drive a few of the tractors he uses and liked using the riding lawn mower.
Siuts said Brandon split his time between his home and that of his ex-wife, Glynis Siuts of Ogden.
He said his son was also just starting to take more of an interest in spectator sports like baseball and basketball.
"It's going to be tough. You just never know," Siuts said.
The Prairieview principal and superintendent said he sought special help from social workers and child psychologists when he had to visit the classrooms and tell them of Brandon's death.
"The sad thing was I had to go tell the third-grade class at the time that they were making get-well cards for him," White said. "Like I said, it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. When you only have, on the average, 14 students per grade, you get to know the kids really well. It's more personal."
The tragedy also reached into the Prairieview Junior High School at Flatville because Brandon's sister Megan is in seventh grade there. His oldest sister, Erin, who is now at St. Joseph-Ogden High School, is well-known by the Prairieview eighth graders.
"We're a small school district of only 143 kids. We all knew him, we knew his parents, we knew his grandparents," White said. "I attended the same church he did so I saw him six days a week. He was a wonderful kid. Very polite, caring and always with a smile on his face. And I think Brandon loved anything that he could do in farming with his dad, and he loved sports.
All Prairieview students will be able to attend the funeral on Friday if they have their parents' permission. The Immanuel Lutheran Church at Flatville is right across the road from the junior high.
"The eighth grade class, as soon as the word came out, started a memorial fund on their own," White said. Seventh and eighth graders $349 by Tuesday afternoon, he said. "So I really feel these kids have tried to show their love and support and they have done an outstanding job of doing what sometimes adults don't even do very well."
The junior high students also plan to get a tree and plaque for Brandon and plant it at the Royal school.
White said parents have asked him what they can do to help. "I tell them to go home and give your son and daughter a big kiss and hug and be grateful for what you have, and then pray for the Siuts family."
News-Gazette staff writer Mary Schenk contributed to this report.