By Ryan Gueningsman
DELANO, MN They were classmates.
They both loved music.
They both loved life.
Their lives both ended too soon.
Two 2007 Delano High School graduates lost their lives in separate incidents over the Memorial Day weekend.
Paquita Suzanne Ray, 20, of Delano, died after falling from a roof in rural Kellogg the morning of May 25, and Austin John Shimon, 20, of Corcoran, died following a motorcycle accident on Highway 55 May 23.
Ray was a student at St. Cloud State University and was enrolled in spring and summer classes.
Given the honor of having the “best smile” in the Delano High School’s 2007 yearbook, Ray is remembered by friends as an outgoing young woman who enjoyed a love of music.
“She always looked happy,” commented Jeanie Pilarski, who volunteers at Delano High School. “She had a beautiful smile and was a very pleasant, nice young woman that had her act together.”
Ray was at a friend’s house in rural Kellogg, located in southeastern Minnesota in Wabasha County, May 25, and had been out on the roof that evening looking at the stars.
“They had both went back inside to go to sleep, and when the friend woke up, her friend noticed she was not there, and then found her on the ground,” said Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsh.
Kellogg First Responders and the Wabasha Ambulance and Wabasha County Sheriff’s Office responded to the call at 5:45 a.m. reporting an unresponsive person who had fallen from a roof.
Bartsh estimated it was a 15-to 16-foot fall, and said there is no reason to believe the incident is anything but an accident. Ray was pronounced dead at St. Elizabeth’s in Wabasha, according to the sheriff’s office.
“It was a very tragic accident,” Bartsh said.
Ray’s friend, Erica Atkinson, went to school with Ray in Delano until their sophomore year of high school, but remained friends when Ray stayed at Delano and Atkinson began attending school in Chaska. Atkinson said Ray was a black belt in Taekwondo and she practiced at the World Taekwondo Academy in Delano.
“We grew up together,” Atkinson said. “It was all about friends and family. That was Paquita. She was nothing without her friends and family that was her life. She would devote every waking moment to them.”
Atkinson echoed Pilarski’s comments, and said Ray was “always happy, and always smiling. Her smile lit up a room as soon as she walked in. She always thought about others.
“She was so smart and beautiful and wise beyond her years.”
Shimon was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and had just completed his second year of school.
In high school at Delano, Shimon was involved in basketball and track, among other activities.
“There’s just so many things he liked to do,” said his best friend, Dustin Wigen, also a 2007 Delano High School graduate. “He liked to golf and just liked hanging out. We’d always go cruising around in cars.”
Wigen said Shimon had just moved back to his father’s house in Corcoran, which is located not far from Wigen’s home.
“He was trying to find a job for the summer and get things rolling,” Wigen said.
Shimon was driving a motorcycle eastbound on Highway 55 May 22 around 1:45 p.m. near the Plymouth/Medina border, east of Hennepin County Road 101 North, according to the Plymouth Police Department.
Plymouth Police Chief Michael Goldstein said something happened causing Shimon to lose control of his motorcycle and crash. Shimon died the following day.
Wigen said his friend was big into sports, and was someone who “always put a smile on your face.”
“He was a fun guy,” Wigen said. “He always had a smile on his face.”
Wigen said Shimon also had developed an interest in songwriting and playing the guitar.
“He just, all of a sudden, had this passion for music and was hoping it would take him somewhere,” Wigen said.
At Stout, Shimon was a sophomore majoring in retail merchandising and management, according to the college’s web site. Wigen said Shimon was interested in fashion merchandising.
For Wigen, he said he met Shimon right after Shimon began attending school at Delano, and the two immediately became friends.
“We met on the school bus together and just became inseparable. It’s been hard,” Wigen said Thursday. “I found out about it from a friend who said someone went down on Highway 55 . . . I kept trying to call him (Shimon), but his phone was off. Then his dad called.”
Goldstein said the accident is still under investigation and being reconstructed by the Minnesota State Patrol.
“It’s a tragic accident and a tragic situation,” Goldstein said.
Full obituaries for Ray and Shimon can be found in this week’s Delano Herald Journal.