Richland High faces fourth death since May

By Jacques Von Lunen, Tri-City HeraldNovember 30, 2011 

Richland High School was devastated by the loss of one of its students this week -- the fourth student death the school has experienced in the past six months.

John Patrick Hayes, 15, of Richland, died Saturday after collapsing on a school bus this past week.

"We're hurting as a community," said Tim Praino, principal of Richland High.

Praino, who this summer took over as the high school's top administrator, already had to announce a student's death to staff and students twice this fall.

Sierra Murray, 16, a junior, was hit and killed while crossing Thayer Drive to attend an event at the school Oct. 20. She died at the hospital Oct. 28.

Senior Austin Katayama, 18, of West Richland, died Oct. 15 after falling from a grain elevator.

And in May, teachers and students mourned sophomore Rybeca Conner. The 16-year-old died in a Benton City house fire.

The most recent tragedy struck just as unexpectedly.

John was riding the school bus home Nov. 22 when he suddenly became unresponsive, Praino said. Students immediately alerted the bus driver, who called 911.

Medics arrived within three minutes, according to emergency dispatch logs, Praino said. They managed to restart John's heart after it stopped beating during the apparent seizure.

The boy had no history of seizures, his father, who also is named John, told the Herald.

The teen had a lung-related illness about 18 months ago, but it was unclear whether this had anything to do with this seizure, his father said.

John was flown to Seattle Children's Hospital, but never regained consciousness. It appeared that the blood supply to his brain was cut off for too long during the seizure, his father said.

The teen's family said goodbye to him Friday afternoon, his father said. His family chose to donate his organs, he said.

His family will take John's ashes to Louisiana, where most of their relatives live. The Hayeses moved to Richland a little more than a year ago. The family is not planning a service in the Tri-Cities.

Counseling was offered Nov. 23 to students, Praino said. Staff also met with every student who was on the bus with John that day.

Now that students are tended to, staff needs support too, he said.

"Educators go into this business to help kids and to be there for kids," Praino said. "We devote our entire lives to working with children. To lose a student is absolutely devastating."

Bill Lotz, a chaplain who helps firefighters and police cope with traumatic situations they encounter in their work, will be working with Richland High staff, Praino said.

John was well liked by staff and students, Praino said in a statement that was read to students Monday. He had been involved in school activities including German Club, Praino told the Herald.

"The Richland High School family extends our sympathy and support to John's family and all their friends," the statement said.

-- Jacques Von Lunen: 582-1402; jvonlunen@tricityherald.com

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