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Classmates honor girl killed in accident

Graduating eighth-graders at Madeira Beach Middle School dedicate an award in Heather Kraus' name.

By LAURA HEINAUER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000


MADEIRA BEACH -- Clutching disposable cameras and flowers and dressed in everything from pajamas and sneakers to ball gowns and high heels, hundreds of eighth-graders gathered for group shots and hugs one last time outside Madeira Beach Middle School on Wednesday.

It was the last day of school, and in a few hours the group of giddy 14- and 15-year-old boys and girls would be lining up on either side of the gym for one of their first dances, taking their first steps toward high school and beyond.

It was a scene these teenagers will remember forever. It was one that made Richard Kraus' heart sink.

"Heather would have really enjoyed this," he said. "She enjoyed this school. She really loved coming here every day."

It has been two months since a car struck and killed his daughter, 13-year-old Heather Kraus, at 71st Street and 50th Avenue N. In her memory, at the annual end-of-the-year assembly, 350 of her classmates dedicated an award in her name to honor eighth-graders who show outstanding school service and citizenship.

"She was always smiling, and she cared about others. . . . We could always count on Heather," said assistant principal Ellen Miller. "This award is meant to recognize other students with similar qualities."

While Miller spoke, and later, when the school chorus sang Follow the River in their classmate's memory, Heather's family sobbed.

Many of her classmates looked solemnly

around the decorated gym and at the crowd of parents and guests seated in the bleachers. Some, dressed in long silk dresses, wiped away smearing mascara that had been applied carefully hours before in preparation for the afternoon dance.

"It's really special to us," said Victoria Kraus, Heather's aunt. Six of Heather's cousins, her grandmother, another aunt and uncle and her father attended the assembly.

"As far as a family goes, of course we're going to remember her forever. But it's nice to know that she will be remembered at her school, too," Victoria Kraus said.

Fourteen-year-old Tammie Rucker presented Heather's father with a signed yearbook and a plaque. Tammie said she used to get bad grades before befriending Heather.

"Then it was honor roll, honor roll, honor roll," she said proudly. "Now it's still like there's an open space missing. I always followed behind Heather."

Tobias King, 13, finished the portion of the assembly honoring Heather with a poem he wrote for his friend. King said he was the first person at the accident scene last March. He had been walking his dog when he saw the crash.

"They said she had massive head and neck trauma and that she had a 1 percent chance of living," he said. "That's when I kind of fell."

That night, he fell asleep with a phone on his neck. He had been calling the hospital all night to see if Heather was going to make it. He found out the bad news the next morning.

The two would have attended Dixie Hollins High School this fall.

"When I had to present (the poem) at the end. . . . When I said, "Heather I love you, . . .' " Tobias said later. "I meant it."

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