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"A bright light": Family, friends mourn loss of Richfield student Donald Gayton Jr., 17, killed in hit-and-run

Vigil held for Donald Gayton Jr., 17, who died after Bloomington hit-and-run crash
Vigil held for Donald Gayton Jr., 17, who died after Bloomington hit-and-run crash 02:21

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Monday night, loved ones shared their horror and heartbreak after a deadly hit-and-run crash.

Bloomington police say a drunk driver struck 17-year-old Donald Gayton Jr. last week, just moments after he bought candy at a Walmart with his little sister, 14-year-old Tamya Gayton.

It happened just after 6 p.m. Friday near 78th Street and 12th Avenue in Bloomington. The siblings were taken to Hennepin County Medical Center. Donald Jr. had critical injuries. On Sunday, authorities were notified that he had died.

Tamya is still being treated for her severe injuries, but is expected to recover.

Police report that the vehicle that had struck both of them was found crashed on the 1900 block of Killebrew Drive, off the roadway, about a mile and a half from where the two teens were struck.

The driver, a 27-year-old from Oakdale, was taken into custody. On Monday, Mikala Jean Ness was charged with criminal vehicular homicide, driving while intoxicated, and leaving the scene of a collision involving casualties.

The complaint against Ness says following the crash, she went into another driver's vehicle in order to stay warm. The driver of that vehicle said she started crying and said she'd struck two people.

When police arrived, Ness allegedly told them she'd been to a holiday party and couldn't remember where it was. She was asked if she remembered striking anyone and said, "I feel like I did, but I don't know." Ness's breath BAC test came back with a 0.13 blood alcohol level.

The complaint also indicates that Tamya had been interviewed by investigators, and said her and Donald Jr. were walking back to their mother's apartment from Walmart. She reported not hearing any skidding, engines revving or car horns before the two were struck.

Donald Gayton Jr. CBS

"My son will never get to go to prom. My son will never get to give me my grandbabies," said Donald Jr.'s mother, Marsha, at Monday's vigil. "You've wrecked a whole family and wrecked hell for what, your supposed holiday party?"

Donald Jr. went to Richfield High School. He was involved in youth programs at TreeHouse and dreamt of going to college, friends said.

"My son lived a hard life. He [overcame] a lot of things," Marsha said.

Family, friends, and classmates of Donald Jr. gathered near the crash site in Bloomington Monday, wearing his favorite color, blue.

"He was a goofy dude, in a good way. He put a lot of smiles on people's faces," said classmate Sam Kane.

"You could tell when you walked in he was a person that had a bright light and he was very kind," said Richfield substitute teacher Jennifer Struck.

"One of my favorite memories of him is this basketball class last semester. Every time he was having fun, he comes out of nowhere and just does something super fun, make the whole classroom laugh," said friend Trey Petersen. "Just the life of the party."

"He loved to help anybody. If you were down, my son would make you smile," Marsha said. 

A letter was sent to the parents of students in the Richfield Public School district, which read, in part:

I am very saddened to inform you that two RPS students, Donald Jr. and Tamya Gayton, were struck by a hit-and-run driver on Friday night. We have learned that Donald Jr. has since passed away from his injuries and his sister Tamya is in stable condition with injuries.

The family has been part of the RPS community for many years with siblings currently attending elementary, middle and high school here. Lead School Social Worker Chantelle Vaughn has known the family for a number of years. She shared, "I have had the privilege of coming to know the students and family over the past few years. I have known them to be a loving and connected family and I cannot imagine the heartache they are experiencing right now. As a Richfield community, may they know we are here for them as we hold them in our hearts.

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