A Hermiston teenager who died in a car crash last week was a star student, a lover of debates and one of Lana Del Rey’s biggest fans.
Brett Jewett, 16, lost his life on Jan. 1 in a fatal crash on Highway 207. But the stories that people who knew him have to share about their beloved son, brother and friend are so vivid, his authentic demeanor lives on.
According to his sister, Maddie, 18, he just couldn’t wait to get a job after his 16th birthday in November. He wasn’t the type to wait around for life to happen, she said.
“He was mad at himself that he hadn’t gotten one yet,” she said. “He was excited about customer service because he can charm the pants off people.”
It’s a quality that Brett always seemed to have, his mother, Shannon Jewett, remembers.
When a teenaged family friend came to visit from Chicago, Brett was just an elementary schooler when he offered her a keepsake — one of his mother’s nicest amethyst rings, plucked from her jewelry box.
“He wanted to set up a little dinner for her, even though she was like 10 years older,” Maddie said.
Friends, family and Hermiston High School Principal Tom Spoo remember Brett as someone who tried hard in school.
“He was one of our top students,” Spoo said.
Brett’s family said he had many interests, but he was drawn to video production and digital art. His sister described him as a video-game expert.
“We were wondering if he’d do something with that,” Shannon said. “But he also loved to argue.”
He loved to debate politics with Maddie.
At Hermiston High School, where Brett was a sophomore, a team of psychologists and other mental health professionals provided student support on Monday. It was the first day back from winter break, and five days after Brett’s untimely death.
Administrators said that substitute teachers were on call all day, in case any educators needed to step out of their classrooms to process tragedy. Kaitlyn Curtis, a 16-year-old junior at the high school, befriended Brett when he first moved to Hermiston from Heppner in elementary school. The pair loved participating in local community theater together. And although that was years ago, the friendship stuck.
“We were, in a way, each other’s rock,” she said.
Curtis said that Brett could make her laugh for hours and while he wasn’t a “touchy-feely” guy, she said that when they visited the corn maze in Walla Walla, Washington, this fall, he let her hold onto him when she was scared.
“He was more smart with anyone else that I knew. He would have accomplished so much,” she added. “He will forever be part of my memory and my heart.”
Harley Pennington, 18, is friends with Maddie, and said she considered Brett her best friend.
“Many nights, we would stay up until 4 a.m. just playing games and talking about life for hours,” she said. “I could tell him anything and he would accept me no matter what.”
Brett was a perfectionist, according to his family. He kept his clothes immaculately clean, and got his hair cut every two weeks. He had strong moral convictions, and they came to light at a young age.
“If people were going to do something he felt wasn’t right, he just would not do it,” Shannon said. “It’s hard to be that way, and he stuck to it.”
One time in school, his classmates teased their substitute teacher, according to Shannon. Brett would have none of it. Of his own accord, he wrote an apology to the teacher on behalf of the whole class.
“He struggled to find friends with as much conviction as him,” Maddie said. “His moral compass was dead-on.”
She said she was starting to see a change in his demeanor the last few months and that his perfectionism sometimes led to anxiety, but that she saw him gaining self-confidence this fall.
“He was just starting to really reclaim himself,” Maddie said.
His grandmother, Jeanne Jewett, an account executive at the Hermiston Herald, said he often seemed beyond his years.
“He wanted the best for his mother and sister,” she said. “He was very much the man of the family.”
And — being as competitive as he was — his family was impressed when he at long last accepted defeat during the final Monopoly game he shared with his mother and sister.
On Monday, his father, Brian Jewett, a trooper with the Oregon State Police, said his son had a way of winning over people’s hearts easily.
“He was happy-go-lucky but set on his ways, too,” he said.
Brian added he was thankful he got to see Brett right before his passing. Maddie and her brother were returning from a visit with their father in Ione before the crash.
“Apparently, God needed him now. He was taken at such a young age,” he said. “I was looking forward to his future.”
People may remember Brett as a volunteer in his community, at the Cowboy Breakfast and with his church. His friends fondly recall his love for music, especially Lana Del Rey.
“He had an aptitude for everything,” Maddie said.
A celebration of life service will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at New Hope Community Church in Hermiston.