Friends and family remembered a University of Illinois student and Buffalo Grove native killed in a Friday crash downstate as funny and outgoing.
Brett Lerner, a 20-year-old journalism student, was on his way to cover a high school football game for a Champaign television station when his vehicle struck another vehicle, according to Illinois State Police.
Police said he was driving north on Illinois Route 47 in Champaign County when, for an undetermined reason, Lerner's vehicle crossed into the oncoming lane and struck a southbound vehicle. He died at the scene. Two people in the other car were injured and hospitalized, police said.
"It's very, very hard," said Rick Pomerantz, Lerner's father. "I lost my son and my best friend."
Lerner worked for The Daily Illini, the campus newspaper, and was out on assignment for local TV station WCIA when the accident happened, the newspaper reported. He was honored by a moment of silence before Saturday's football game between the Fighting Illini and the Wisconsin Badgers.
Speaking Monday after his son's funeral, Pomerantz said about 700 people attended the memorial service. He said his family had originally planned to hold the ceremony at the chapel of Shalom Memorial Park in Arlington Heights, which holds about 350. When he heard how many people were coming to pay respect, though, they moved it to Temple Chai in Long Grove.
Pomerantz said Lerner's fraternity brothers at the Illinois chapter of Zeta Beta Tau rented a bus so they could travel to the Long Grove services together.
"He was a quick friend, a lovable friend and a loyal friend," the Daily Illini's sports editor, Peter Bailey-Wells, wrote in a column Monday.
As news of Lerner's death spread back home, friends and former classmates at his alma mater, Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, spent the weekend recalling memories.
"We're obviously devastated," said Tim Crow, who was Lerner's varsity volleyball coach for two years at Stevenson. "It's a shocking thing. We're feeling awful for his family."
Lerner's junior season was 2011-12, when his volleyball team went to the state regionals. Crow said Lerner spent a lot of that year's practice time on the sideline. But Lerner filled those hours with a practice of his own: he honed his skills as a play-by-play announcer by calling the action of practice, out loud.
"He would say anything he wanted. It was always funny, sarcastic," recalled Robbie Redman, an Indiana University student who was teammates with Lerner at Stevenson.
Lerner's fake broadcasts gave way to more practice time, which led to more trust from Crow. The coach put him and a teammate in charge of scouting opponents. During tournaments, Lerner would sit in the stands and take notes on which opponents his team should serve toward, and how other teams' setters operated.
"He's the guy I knew we could count on," Crow said.
Lerner's dual abilities made him one of Stevenson's more popular personalities, teachers said.
AP Government teacher Andy Conneen said he heard about Lerner's work through webcasts of Stevenson basketball games, and his commentary on the early talent of Jalen Brunson, who was named "Mr. Basketball of Illinois" and has just begun the year on the basketball squad at Villanova University.
"I loved listening to him, as a junior, excitedly describe Jalen Brunson's first-year moves driving to the basket," Conneen said in an email. "In a youthful voice, Brett would rave about Brunson's 'euro step' with elaborate and colorful details. So when Brett entered my class to take AP Government as a senior, I felt like I was meeting a celebrity sports broadcaster."
In addition to his work at WCIA, where he was a sports intern, Lerner had also reported for the Big Ten Network and WPGU, according to the Daily Illini. He was an active member of the campus' Hillel organization, the newspaper reported.
In addition to his father, Richard, Lerner is survived by his mother, Susan, and his sister, Mallory. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Orphans of the Storm, 2200 Riverwoods Road, Deerfield.
An earlier version of this story misidentified the fraternity affiliation of Peter Bailey-Wells, sports editor for the Daily Illini. He is not a member of a campus fraternity at the University of Illinois. Pioneer Press regrets the errror.