Students remember classmate at vigil

Friends mourning loss of senior Sergey Bondarchuk recall his compassion, friendliness toward others

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Students at Fort Vancouver High School paid tribute to a lost classmate at a candlelight vigil tonight by the school's front doors.

It's difficult for them to get over the death of Sergey Bondarchuk, 18, because he was such a big part of their day-to-day school lives. They said they could always count on seeing the high school senior walk through those front doors with a big smile on his face.

"He had a big heart full of love and compassion," said student Sam Cosovan, 18. "I'm at peace because I know he's with God."

Bondarchuk was driving south on Interstate 5 near midnight Feb. 28 when he lost control of his 1997 Acura sedan while attempting to change lanes, the Washington State Patrol reported. The car went off the right side of the freeway just north of Northeast 179th Street and struck a tree.

He was declared dead at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

Troopers still aren't sure what caused the crash.

Many of his closest friends haven't been able to return to school after hearing about the crash, said Cassie Bettis, 18, a senior at Fort Vancouver. A memorial was set up in the hallway where Bondarchuk usually sat before school started. The area was decorated with rose petals, and students posted notes on the wall about him. The break dance team performed a dance for him in the spot.

Bondarchuk made friends with many intersecting social circles at the school. Those who knew him said he made sure to greet people and give them a handshake.

On a recent snow day at the high school, he stood at the front doors to let students know the school was closed.

"It's hard for me to find the words," Bettis said.

Bondarchuk was studying law through the Clark County Skills Center and worked at an office in Ridgefield.

Myshelle Tanner, 18, said she met Bondarchuk in kindergarten when he had first immigrated to Vancouver from Ukraine. They got on the school bus at the same bus stop.

"We always talked the world away like we didn't have a care, because we knew we would see each other the next day," she said.

Two students read poems they wrote, remembering his bright personality and his impact on their lives.

At the end of the vigil, the students let 18 blue balloons float up into the night sky, representing Bondarchuk's 18 years of life.