For the second time this fall, students at Shawnee Mission West are mourning the death of one of their fellow students.
Houston D. St. John, a 17-year-old junior, died Tuesday in a crossover crash on westbound Interstate 435 in Lenexa.
The crash occurred about 1:05 p.m. near Lackman Road. A Highway Patrol report said St. John’s eastbound vehicle spun out, crossed the median and collided with a westbound vehicle.
Both drivers wore seat belts, the patrol said. The other driver was not injured.
School officials learned of St. John’s death Tuesday evening. Additional counselors will be at the school Wednesday to speak with students and staff, said district spokeswoman Leigh Anne Neal.
“The life of each student is precious. At this time, our deepest thoughts and condolences are extended to the St. John family,” Neal said. “We will continue to provide additional support for the students, staff and Shawnee Mission West community as they cope with this tragic loss.”
St. John’s death came about a month after Shawnee Mission West football standout Andre Maloney suffered a stroke during a game and died the following day. Maloney, 17, was a star wide receiver and cornerback who helped the school win its first state championship since 1985.
Word of St. John’s death quickly spread among students and others at the end of the school day, said Mitch Arndt, a 17-year-old junior.
St. John was involved in choir and drama at his school. He was set to perform the lead in an upcoming Christian Youth Theater production of “Tarzan.” The cast learned about Houston's death when they arrived for rehearsal Tuesday night. CYT has decided to go on with the production and find some way to honor Houston during the shows.
On Tuesday, Arndt recalled speaking to him earlier in the day about the upcoming auditions for “The Wizard of Oz.”
“We talked about how the auditions were going to go and what to expect,” Arndt said.
Arndt said he had known St. John since they were in the seventh grade.
“He was one of the nicest persons I’ve ever known,” Arndt said. “He didn’t have a bad bone in his body.”
“The death of any student is tragic for a school community and family,” said Julie Crain, Shawnee Mission West principal. “Our students and faculty are fortunate to have the outpouring of support and love from not only our West area family but also patrons in SMSD as well as throughout Johnson County. The students and faculty have truly appreciated the community’s thoughts and prayers during these difficult times.”
Crain said another Shawnee Mission West student, Ezkiel Crapo, died earlier this summer.
Houston was a two-year member of the Shawnee Mission West Madrigal Singers and Chorale -- the top two choral ensembles based on musicianship and leadership.
In the 2012-2013 school year, he was a member of the NEKMEA District Choir and a second alternate for the KMEA All-State Choir, and a state soloist at the KSHSAA Solo/Small Ensemble festival. Houston also was an active member of the Shawnee Mission West Theater department and was recognized with a nomination for the Blue Star Program through Starlight that annually recognizes outstanding high school talent
“Houston was a dynamic personality-- so genuine and friendly to all whom he encountered," said Laura VanLeeuwen, Shawnee Mission West choir director. "His dedication, work ethic, determination, talent, and passion towards the performing arts will be a shining example to us all and a model of inspiration as we move forward.”