Ellington residents gathered at the high school Tuesday night to release balloons and remember a 19-year-old former student who lost his life in an ATV accident in Suffield last week.
Police say Austin Tautkus was riding his ATV at his family's farm when the vehicle flipped, pinning him underneath. Each balloon sent up to the sky tonight contained a note written to Tautkus – one final goodbye.
"I still don't believe it, and I won't believe it for a long time, but I eel better knowing that he's going to get a little word from us," said Cody Fongemie, a good friend of Austin's, at the memorial Tuesday night.
His father Keith was there that day, and spoke of the accident at a vigil last week.
“It’s just an unfortunate accident that happened,” Keith Tautkus said at the vigil. “It was a disaster for him.”
Keith Tautkus added that, rather than focusing on the incredible loss he and his family must endure, he hopes the community can remember his son for the way Austin Tautkus lived to the fullest.
“[He was] a happy kid all the time,” Keith Tautkus said. “He was more concerned about others than himself. I think that’s what made him special.”
Austin Tautkus was a football star at Ellington High School. After he graduated last year, he took his talents to Western Connecticut State University, where teammates say he was a natural leader.
His loss is a blow to his college community.
“I’m still in shock,” said teammate Joe Leslie. “It doesn’t seem real.”
Friends from back home said Austin Tautkus spent time giving back to the community and helping others.
“He volunteered his time for the kids with the Little League and stuff like that,” explained neighbor Peter Sherba, who said the teen was taken “too soon… Very tragic for such a young man.”
Community members lit candles last Thursday night to honor Tautkus' memory, paying tribute to a teen who touched their lives.
“This is unbelievable to see all the people here, telling stories about him,” said Keith Tautkus. To him, the support makes all the difference and has been instrumental in helping him get through the past couple weeks.
"I think, as a community, it's going to be really hard to get through this," said 19-year-old Hillary Pueragbe, at the Tuesday night memorial. "But we're strong, and we'll be able to do it with everyone's help."
Keith Tautkus said his son’s organs will be donated to about 10 people in desperate need of transplants.