Block Island crash victim 'a young man who lived life to its fullest'

FAIRFIELD — Jake Panus was a natural leader who people gravitated toward, according to Reverend Laura Whitmore of the Southport Congregational Church.

“Jake was a young man who lived life to its fullest. He threw himself completely into whatever he committed to,” Whitmore said. “Whether it was his church, his sports teams, his studies, his friendships — and he just brought joy and humor and fun to wherever he was.”

Panus, a 16-year-old Southport resident, died in a car accident on Block Island Sunday. All five people in the vehicle were Fairfield Ludlowe High School students, and the driver has since been charged with driving under the influence of liquor or drugs.

A celebration of his life is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday. The service will be invite-only because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the family will greet the community at 3:30 p.m. on the lawn of the Pequot Library in Southport.

Jake Panus, a 16-year-old Southport resident, was killed in a car accident on Block Island Sunday.

Jake Panus, a 16-year-old Southport resident, was killed in a car accident on Block Island Sunday.

/Kelli Panus

According to his obituary, Panus had an “infectious and perpetual smile, charismatic personality, supreme confidence, selfless sense of compassion and kindness, and true and unique authenticity emerged early in his formative years.”

The obituary said Panus was empathetic and caring, good at relating to others and always was there to help or listen to those who needed it the most. It said family was incredibly important to him — a sentiment Whitmore agreed with.

“Jake Panus — the reason he was a such a good kid is because his family... had a family life and relationship that was solid and strong and supportive,” Whitmore said. “He loved his family openly... family was at the top of his list in importance to him.”

Whitmore said Panus had a deep love for church. She said he went to church school every Sunday and became a shepherd, leading younger parishioners, and was involved in the youth group.

“He was there in the classroom and the kids loved him,” she said. “They always say young kids can read the character of somebody... kids knew he was that soft, gentle, kind guy that they wanted to be with.”

Whitmore said he also served as a junior deacon at Southport Congregational. She said it is rare to find a high school student who loved church as much as Panus.

“He had a really strong faith and understanding of God’s love for him, and that just kind of shone out of him,” Whitmore said.

According to his obituary, Panus went on a church mission trip in 2019 to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Oglala Lakota County, S.D., to aid and assist the children of Red Shirt Table.

“He had the time of his life,” Whitmore said. “He really threw himself into knowing these kids, and he was great at understanding where they were coming from and respecting them.”

Whitmore said Panus left an impression on the people around him. When she spoke about Jake during youth group on Monday, Whitmore said nobody could recall ever hearing him say a mean thing about anybody.

Going into his junior year at Ludlowe, Panus was on the lacrosse and football teams. Head football coach Mitch Ross said losing Panus was like losing a brother.

“Many of the kids want to talk about it,” Ross said, referencing in-person and online counseling the school was providing. “The team is devastated. Talking about Jake and what happened in groups of his teammates has been very effective for the kids to work through their emotions.”

Ludlowe Headmaster Greg Hatzis said Panus was a good student, friend and teammate. Whitmore described Panus as a “shining, bright star.”

Panus is survived by his parents, Kellie and Stephen; his younger brother Liam; his grandmothers, Carol Whitmyer and Joan Panus; his uncles, Michael Whitmyer and Mark Panus; an aunt, Sarah Panus of Boca Raton, Fla.; cousins Matthew and Michelle Fanelli and Jamie-Leigh and Max Whitmyer, as well as many other cousins.

In lieu of flowers, a memorial scholarship fund will be created in Panus’s name to provide post-secondary education financial assistance to the children from Red Shirt Table on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

To donate, send a check made out to the “Southport Congregational Church” ref: The Jake Panus Scholarship Fund. C/O Southport Congregational Church, PO Box 366, Southport, CT 06890. For online donations visit the website or call 203-255-1594.