NE teen remembered as loyal friend, gifted student

Utah Izvuk had an en­dear­ingly sheep­ish way of greet­ing her best friend’s dad every time he came home and found the Rhawn­hurst teen in his liv­ing room watch­ing TV or in his kit­chen de­vour­ing a light snack.

“I would say, ‘You’re here again?’ And she would say, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” re­called Tony La­foret, whose daugh­ter Dana first met Utah six years ago when they were sixth-grade class­mates at Woo­drow Wilson Middle School.

Tony La­foret’s in­dig­na­tion wasn’t real. It was only a show, an in­side joke between him and a young lady whom he con­sidered to be part of his own fam­ily.

The Izvuk, La­foret and North­east High School fam­il­ies all lost a be­loved daugh­ter on Feb. 17 when Utah died in a pre-dawn, single-car crash in Bustleton. Utah, a 17-year-old seni­or at North­east High, was the lone pas­sen­ger in a 1995 Ford Ex­plorer that struck a tree on Grant Av­en­ue near Krewstown Road. She died at the scene.

“She was like my second daugh­ter,” Tony La­foret said Sat­urday in an in­ter­view at the Coun­try Club Diner. “I told Dana that I have to find an­oth­er second daugh­ter now and she said to me, ‘No, Dad, her num­ber is re­tired.’ ”

The sports ana­logy was tra­gic­ally ap­pro­pri­ate as ath­let­ics were among Utah’s many in­terests. She played goalie on North­east’s girls soc­cer team and played on the vol­ley­ball team. Her sis­ter, Daisy, played both sports too, be­fore gradu­at­ing from North­east High last spring.

As one of three chil­dren of Ukra­ni­an im­mig­rant par­ents, Utah was known for her out­go­ing per­son­al­ity, con­ta­gious smile and queen-size stature. She stood al­most 6 feet tall. Her giv­en name was a shortened form of her moth­er’s name, Ly­ud­m­ila, and also paid trib­ute to an aunt who lives in Latvia, Daisy said. She is also sur­vived by her fath­er, Ro­man, and a young­er broth­er, Max.

Utah’s un­usu­al name be­came a tar­get for more kid­ding around with her sur­rog­ate fam­ily.

“We used to call her ‘U-small’ in­stead of ‘U-tall,’” said Debbie La­foret, Dana’s mom. “That made her laugh.”

“She felt like she could really be her­self [with us],” said Dana La­foret, who at­ten­ded North­east High for a couple of years be­fore re­gis­ter­ing with a “cy­ber” charter school.

Utah was a gif­ted stu­dent who stud­ied in North­east High’s mag­net pro­gram, tak­ing ad­vanced math and sci­ence classes. She liked to draw and con­sidered pur­su­ing a ca­reer as a de­sign­er. When the La­forets moved in­to a new house a few years ago, Utah helped them dec­or­ate it. She ap­plied her aes­thet­ic sens­ib­il­it­ies to her own ap­pear­ance, too.

“She didn’t walk out of her room without her hair and nails done,” Dana La­foret said.

“She took hours with that,” agreed Daisy Izvuk, who de­scribed her­self as the quiet one in her fam­ily. “She did that every day for school, too.”

“She had to look per­fect,” Dana La­foret ad­ded. “Pink was her fa­vor­ite col­or, hot pink.”

Neither the La­foret fam­ily, nor Daisy are really sure what happened to Utah on the morn­ing of the crash. They don’t know much about the driver. Phil­adelphia po­lice iden­ti­fied him only as a 19-year-old man who was hos­pit­al­ized in “ex­tremely crit­ic­al” con­di­tion with un­dis­closed in­jur­ies.

Au­thor­it­ies have not re­leased his name nor an up­dated re­port on his con­di­tion. Po­lice said that ex­cess­ive speed may have been a factor in the crash. No crim­in­al charges have been filed.

“It happened out of nowhere, just ran­dom,” Daisy Izvuk said.

Utah had been liv­ing with the fam­ily of her long-time boy­friend, who was not in­volved in the crash. Utah ap­par­ently had stopped at a friend’s house in the hours lead­ing up to the crash and had left her purse there, so she did not have her iden­ti­fic­a­tion at the time of the ac­ci­dent.

Daisy was at home with her par­ents, who primar­ily speak Ukra­ni­an, later that morn­ing when word reached them that Utah may have been hurt. Even­tu­ally the fam­ily was called to identi­fy her re­mains.

The La­forets learned of the tragedy at about 11 that morn­ing. Dana and oth­er close friends gathered at the Izvuk home and im­me­di­ately re­solved to help the vic­tim’s par­ents, who are “tra­di­tion­al” and de­vout, the La­forets said.

In the en­su­ing days, the friends met reg­u­larly at the La­foret home to or­gan­ize trib­utes to Utah.

“[We] were say­ing we have to do something for her,” Dana La­foret said. “Some­body said we have to do T-shirts. … One guy de­signed it. An­oth­er set it up. And I got people to make them.”

Joe Long Awards and J.P. Tees both donated goods or ser­vices, said Tony La­foret, a former Phil­adelphia po­lice K-9 of­ficer who knew Long from the busi­ness­man’s many con­tri­bu­tions to po­lice-af­fil­i­ated fun­draisers.

“Joe said [to me] that when someone’s down, you stick out your hand and help them out,” La­foret said.

The shirts are pink or purple, Utah’s two fa­vor­ite col­ors. One side de­picts a cross, wings, Utah’s name and the dates of her birth and death. The oth­er side has a slo­gan de­clar­ing that “No Vik­ings Get Left Be­hind or For­got­ten,” a ref­er­ence to the North­east High nick­name.

About 200 shirts were sold. All pro­ceeds are meant to help off­set fu­ner­al ex­penses. Also, Utah’s friends plan to sell pink and purple rib­bons in school.

Utah her­self nev­er hes­it­ated to help her friends in need. When Dana had knee sur­gery and was wheel­chair-bound as a sopho­more, Utah helped her throughout her re­hab­il­it­a­tion.

“Utah pushed her around for weeks,” Debbie La­foret said. “She took her to get tu­tor­ing and took her to ther­apy. She walked for her and walked with her and ba­sic­ally taught her to walk. We used to say she was [Dana’s] guard­i­an an­gel.”

Al­though Izvuk’s griev­ing par­ents, Ro­man and Ly­ud­m­ila, wished not to speak pub­licly about Utah’s death, they asked that this bib­lic­al pas­sage be prin­ted in her memory:

“The Lord gave and now He’s taken away. May His name be praised.” — Job 1:21. •• 

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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