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Tuesday, April 23
The Indiana Daily Student

student life

A year after his death, family and friends remember Nate Stratton

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Ceci Stratton has celebrated her brother every moment since his passing — his kindness, laughter and authenticity. But for her family, the vigil held Sunday marking the one-year anniversary of his passing felt less like a celebration of life than a call for change.

“Today is an opportunity to show resilience in the face of tragedy,” Ceci said during her speech. “This is an opportunity to set an example – a necessity for change.”

More than 50 of Nate Stratton’s friends and family members gathered in Dunn Meadow on Sunday afternoon to honor the former IU student who was killed last September after a hit-and-run incident involving an alleged drunk driver.

Sitting on blankets in Dunn Meadow, those who knew Nate clapped, cried and embraced as they listened to music and shared their fondest memories of the man they said had a fire for life.

Originally from Excelsior, Minnesota, Nate was a junior in the Kelley School of Business pursuing a career in entrepreneurship. Shortly before tragedy struck, he had accepted a study abroad opportunity in Australia.

The event was supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, an organization focused on ending impaired driving.

IU alumni band Funk Almighty performed songs including “Uptown Funk,” “September” and “Tennessee Whiskey.” Peyton Womock, the band’s saxophonist and road manager, said the band wanted to participate to honor Nate’s legacy and raise awareness against drunk driving.

Nate died Sept. 18, 2022, after Bloomington resident Madelyn Howard, an IU alum, reportedly veered into the bicycle lane at the intersection of North Walnut Street and East 12th Street and hit him with her car, the Indiana Daily Student reported. Nate was riding an electric scooter at the time of the incident, making his way back from Raising Cane’s around 2 a.m. Howard allegedly had a blood alcohol level of .226 – almost three times the legal limit of .08 – and fled the scene after striking Nate.

[Related: Loved ones remember the life of IU junior Nate Stratton]

Howard has since been charged with four felonies: reckless homicide, leaving the scene of an accident, operating a vehicle while intoxicated and causing death when operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .08 or more. Howard is currently free on bond, with a jury trial set for Feb. 26, 2024, according to court documents.

Nate’s parents Brad and Elizabeth Stratton filed a civil lawsuit against Howard in Nov. 2022, according to court documents. They added Kilroy’s Sports Bar, where Howard was reportedly drinking that night, to the lawsuit in May, claiming bar staff allegedly continued to serve Howard alcohol after she was visibly intoxicated, a crime in Indiana. Howard was a Kilroy’s employee but was off-duty the night of the incident.

Sunday’s vigil was held just days after another student riding an e-scooter was struck by a driver on campus Sept. 14. The student was transported to the hospital with serious injuries.

Although both Nate and the other student were hit while riding scooters, his family wants to make one thing clear: drunk drivers are the problem, not scooters. Ceci said Nate’s death was not an accident, but a wrong and avoidable choice.

“Nate could have been riding a bike or a skateboard – his mode of transportation didn’t matter,” she said. ‘The decision by another to selfishly get behind the wheel did.”

The year since Nate’s death has been filled with sadness, anger and shock, members of his family said.

[Related: Kilroy's Sports added to wrongful death lawsuit of IU student]

Those in attendance emphasized the importance of stopping drunk driving. Nate’s former roommate Aidan Gonzalez said it comes down to not only self-accountability but holding others accountable too.

“Any amount of people could have told Madelyn Howard not to get in the car, not to be driving,” he said. “I think that holding your friends accountable and taking care of them is going to go a lot further than people really realize.”

Gonzalez said Nate was passionate about everything he did and fully invested in conversations with others. He said the pair knew each other since freshman year of high school, and Nate always had fun ideas; during COVID-19 lockdown, for example, Nate spent hours making a Minecraft server for their friend group to entertain themselves.

“Throughout the duration of his life, he was very much trying to create moments for us to enjoy,” Gonzalez said.

Nate’s eldest sister Abby said the last year has highlighted just how important Nate was to so many friends, peers and classmates. Stories of his kindness and generosity have been beautiful to witness. But Abby said she’s been surprised at the lack of outcry from the university and law enforcement about preventing drunk driving.

“Clearly there’s problems on this campus about people being in danger, and there’s an accountability factor that hasn’t been accounted for,” she said.

Nate’s father Brad said he spent the last year finding ways to remember his son, such as putting a plaque in the middle of the national forest where the two of them had their last ski run.

“He was just always trying to make others better and we miss that every day,” Brad said.

IU senior Katia Benguesmia said Nate was one of the most generous people she’d ever met. She recalled how when a mutual friend was having computer troubles in the middle of the night, Nate stayed up to help her.

[Related: IU student riding scooter struck by car, seriously injured at 10th and Woodlawn]

“No matter when you needed him or where you needed him, he would be there, giving advice even if you didn’t always ask,” Benguesmia said. “We just always appreciated having him around and he just had such a bright and fun sense of humor.”

In her speech, Ceci recalled the horrifying reality her family faced following her brother’s death, from viewing his body to seeing the blood stains at the scene of the incident. She said her family wants Howard to be held accountable for her actions.

“The cost her parents paid for her release? 500 dollars,” she said. “We all know the cost my family paid – a life sentence of unimaginable grief and the loss of a smile that could light up a room."

Toward the end of the vigil, candles were lit for each person to hold. Ceci took the mic again.

“I just want to let you all know that he’s with us all the time,” she said. “He’s guiding me, and I hope you can find that in your lives too and keep his memory alive.”

Ceci’s candle went out. The crowd bowed their heads for a moment of silence.

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