The Palos Verdes community lost an admired young man last month when 17-year-old Sean Heffernan, a PV High student was killed by a suspected drunk driver the night of Friday Jan 18.
Heffernan was reportedly stepping into his car near Robert Ryan Park on Hawthorne Boulevard in front of three other friends when a vehicle driven by 55-year-old Ho Seok Suh, of Rancho Palos Verdes, careened into four parked cars, including Heffernan’s, and striking the high school senior.
Suh, who reportedly failed a field sobriety test at the scene, was charged with vehicular manslaughter and posted $50,000 bail the next day.
PV High Principal Nick Stephany said the school initiated its district crisis response team when students returned to school on Tuesday following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Counselors offered private meetings, attended each of Sean’s classes and created a space in the courtyard to write messages and remember Sean throughout the week. On that Friday, about 1,000 students and teachers honored Sean with a memorial ceremony, Stephany said.
“The kids are broken up over it,” Stephany said. “It was a tough thing to happen for the campus. Our school has done a good job of dealing with it and helping the students get through it, but at the same time there’s no playbook. There’s no easy way to get through something like this. It’s just going to take some time.”
Heffernan was remembered as a caring and witty young man who was mature beyond his years. He was active in his local church, loved to travel and struck up conversations easily with adults around him. At PV High, he liked to spend time in the library where he volunteered to help the librarians. In grade school, Josefina Quinonez remembers him well.
“I was blessed to have Sean as a lunch helper at Mira Catalina when I was the ‘lunch lady,’” Quinonez said. “I enjoyed every story he had from different countries he visited, especially when he visited Ireland.”
Heffernan travelled a lot in his short life. Just last summer after returning from a trip to the Galapagos Islands with classmates, he turned around the next day and headed to Ireland for a family vacation.
At school Heffernan was a popular kid who ran cross country and played soccer. His uncle Rich Heffernan coaches the freshman-sophomore soccer team. Jeff Atkinson, one of two cross country coaches at the high school, said Sean got faster every year.
“He was very well liked,” Atkinson said. “He was very sharp and funny. He had a clever wit and was just your classic good guy.”
Sean, who has an older sister and younger brother, was also a talented photographer, a gifted honors Spanish student and a published poet. He loved classic literature and worked tirelessly for the church. On a tribute page on the Daily Breeze web site, Sean was remembered for his joy for life.
“At the celebration of his life, it was clear he lived his life with energy, enthusiasm and thoughtfulness all the time,” said Wade Welch.
“Such a beautiful smile never to be forgotten,” said Sandi Kelly.
Heffernan’s passing was made especially hard on the student body at PV High following the death over the summer of another student, 16-year-old Brian Booth, who succumbed to cancer. A cancer walk will be held Feb. 16 in Booth’s honor.
“Our counseling staff has been phenomenal,” said Stephany, who just two months prior was involved in setting up the district crisis response plan for the first time. “I’m not sure why we set it up now, but I’m glad we did,” he said. “These are things that happen at a high school and we eventually move on and get over it.” ER