On Monday, three young people were taken much too soon.
On Wednesday, hundreds of friends, neighbors and total strangers gathered in the darkness, candles flickering, not to mourn the loss, but to celebrate their lives.
Tyler Montgomery, 19, of Plainfield and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Alexis Banuelos, were planning to have dinner with the Naperville teen’s parents on Monday. But first, they went for a ride with their friend and former District 202 classmate Brian Herrera.
Herrera was driving a black Ford coupe when he made a turn in front of a semi-trailer heading east on Route 126 near Oswego. The driver of the truck, which carried 40,000 pounds of sand, wasn’t able to stop in time, and the semi flipped onto its side, pinning the car beneath it. All three teens were killed.
Mike Montgomery, Tyler’s dad, spoke of Herrera, a Plainfield teen who held down two jobs, one at Bob Evans and another at Abercrombie & Fitch.
“I don’t think there’s any blame out there,” Mongtomery said during a vigil held Wednesday night at his Golden Meadow Drive home. “It was a bad mistake, a bad choice, and we’ve all made those.”
Joined by Alexis’ parents, Ricardo and Raquel Banuelos, Montgomery talked about the couple, both students at Joliet Junior College and graduates of Plainfield North High School.
Friends and family — not to mention a former middle school teacher — remembered Tyler as someone who brought a little more color to the world.
“When I met Tyler, he had spiked green hair,” Heritage Grove Middle School teacher Rose Simonelli said.
Friends said Tyler would use Kool-Aid to dye his hair bright colors — a habit that never bothered his dad.
“I have the pictures with the orange spiked hair,” Montgomery said. “If you didn’t know Tyler, that’s who he was. His teachers would always sign his yearbook and say, ‘Thanks for the colors.’”
The teen, employed at the Shell Circle K in Plainfield, also had a passion for music — rap music in particular.
Montgomery said his son was part of a rap group known as Midwest Mathmatics.
“It didn’t sound like it was rockin’ to me,” he said of the band's name, so he quizzed Tyler about its meaning.
“My son was a little genius, and he goes, ‘Dad, music is math,’” Montgomery said. “... It’s poetry put to a beat, it’s poetry in motion. It’s just who he was.”
The Banuelos family remembered Alexis as a funny, spunky girl who was full of life.
“I’m in awe right now,” Ricardo Banuelos said, looking out at the crowd. “I had no idea my daughter had so many friends.”
Tyler’s sister, Tiffany, had a plea for the friends and community members who gathered.
“Please, cherish every moment you have with everyone you love — you just never know when they will be gone. Don’t let the little things get to you, because it’s not worth it,” she said. “Realize what is important … because we don’t have a lot of time.”
Often laughing through tears, the crowd listened to friends and family share stories about the young couple.
“That’s what this is about,” Mongtomery said. “We’re celebrating their lives, not mourning their death, and they had a beautiful life.”
“[Tyler and Alexis] were so in love and they get to spend eternity together,” Montgomery said.
Since no celebration is complete without music, members of Tyler’s band shared some of his recordings, including several songs he never got to finish.
Visitation for Herrera is scheduled for 2 to 8 p.m. Friday, June 8, at Beidelman-Kunsch Funeral Home & Crematory, 24021 W. Royal Worlington Dr., Naperville.
Editor's Note: The story has been updated with links to obituaries for Tyler and Alexis, along with information on visitation for Alexis.