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Ryan Meinken spent much of Memorial Day polishing the sports car he got for being an honor roll student at Carmel High School in Mundelein.
By evening, he was dead, killed while apparently racing his brother at speeds witnesses said may have exceeded 100 m.p.h., a Lake County sheriff's spokesman said.
Meinken, 17, of Green Oaks, and his brother, Chris, 21, were driving powerful versions of 2006 Subaru Imprezas on Buckley Road in an unincorporated area near Libertyville about 5:30 p.m. Monday when Ryan collided with two cars and crashed into a wooded area, Sgt. Christopher Thompson said.
The brothers had gone to get gas for their cars and were returning home, said their mother, Nancy McDonald-Meinken. She said she didn't know if they were speeding but denied they had been drag-racing.
Ryan Meinken was pronounced dead at the scene. Chris Meinken was not injured, and the people in the other vehicles were taken to hospitals for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, Thompson said.
An investigation of the accident may take up to two weeks, he said. No charges had been filed Tuesday.
Ryan Meinken had a blood-alcohol level of 0.02, said Lake County Coroner Richard Keller, below the legal limit of 0.08 for adults but above the state's zero-tolerance threshold for minors.
"Our hearts go out to the family," Thompson said. "But it does serve as a sobering and glaring reminder that our young people desperately need to start making better decisions when they get behind the wheel of a car."
Witnesses said the two cars appeared to be racing on a four-lane stretch of Illinois Highway 137, also known as Buckley Road, when Ryan Meinken's car rear-ended a Honda Accord carrying four people at Oak Grove Avenue. He then spun into a Jeep Cherokee traveling in the opposite direction before careering off the road.
It was unclear if he was wearing a seat belt, Thompson said.
Police and local hospitals declined to release the names of the people who were in the other cars or information on their conditions.
McDonald-Meinken said her son was a junior on the honor roll and took Advanced Placement classes at Carmel, a Catholic school in Mundelein. He had participated in track and wrestling and spent several years playing soccer, she said.
He had been interested in a career in nuclear physics since 5th grade and wanted to attend the California Institute of Technology, McDonald-Meinken said.
"He had a whole idea of what he wanted to do," she said. "He wanted to work to try to make nuclear energy more environmentally friendly."
The family moved from Connecticut to Green Oaks, near Libertyville, three years ago, she said.
Ryan Meinken had worked at Cousins Subs in Libertyville for the last few months and planned to work all summer to maintain his car, his mother said.
On Memorial Day, "he had just spent all day washing and waxing it," she said.
Tuesday would have been the last day of classes for Ryan Meinken before final exams began at Carmel, said Rev. Robert Carroll, the school's principal.
Students and teachers gathered for a prayer service in the gymnasium before the school day began. Counselors visited all of Ryan Meinken's classes.
"They were very solemn and hurt by his death," Carroll said.
Visitation will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday in McMurrough Funeral Chapel, 101 Park Place, Libertyville. Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Joseph Catholic Church, 121 E. Maple Ave., Libertyville.
Classmates at Carmel remembered Ryan Meinken as an outgoing, smart student who liked to talk about his car. Rumors had already spread through the school Tuesday that he had been racing with his brother when the accident happened, students said.
"Most people are shocked that something like that could happen," junior Richie Krauss said.
Krauss, 17, said Ryan Meinken told classmates that he had received the Subaru as a gift for getting a 4.0 grade-point average in the fall.
According to a car Web site, Ryan and Chris Meinken each owned an Impreza WRX STi. The model has a 300-horsepower engine and retails for about $35,000, a dealer said.
"I'd always see him at lunch," Krauss said as he pulled a baseball bat and glove from the trunk of his Chevrolet Camaro. "Me and him would talk about whose car would go faster."
Krauss never was a passenger in Ryan Meinken's car but had ridden in similar models with "fast pickup."
"He loved it a lot," Krauss said, "the same thing all kids say about their cars."
Smiling sheepishly as a visitor complimented the Camaro, Krauss said he, too, loved his car.
"But I'm thinking about selling it, now that I heard about what happened to Ryan," he said.