Sarah Root was always ready to be a friend.

High school classmate Heather Meyers said that when she was down and out about something, she would talk with Sarah.

"She was just really good at listening and always knew the right thing to say, whether it was advice or to 'just forget about it,'" said Meyers, now 21, who knew her since elementary school in Council Bluffs. "You could tell (in the way) she listened to you how sincere she was."

Root, 21, who graduated from Bellevue University on Saturday with a 4.0 grade-point average, was killed in a car wreck early Sunday morning in Omaha. The young man who took her life was street racing while drunk, authorities said Thursday.

Douglas County Judge Jeffrey Marcuzzo ordered Eswin G. Mejia, 19, held on 10 percent of $50,000 bail during a court appearance Thursday. Mejia is accused of felony motor vehicle homicide while driving under the influence and faces 20 years in prison if convicted.

David Wear, a deputy prosecutor with the Douglas County Attorney's Office, said that Mejia was racing east on L Street near 33rd Street and had a blood alcohol content of See Mejia:

Eswin Mejia Authorities say he was street racing when his pickup struck Sarah Roots' sport utility vehicle.

.241, over three times the legal driving limit.

Mejia must pay $5,000 to be released from jail.

Defense attorney Thomas L. Niklitschek, who spoke with Mejia through a Spanish interpreter, said it was his understanding that Omaha police officers are looking for the other vehicle involved in the race. He declined to comment on the allegations against his client other than to lament the loss of life involved.

"My investigation is just getting started," Niklitschek said.

Like Meyers, Melanie Krohn of Omaha had known Root since elementary school and attended Abraham Lincoln High with her. While in junior high and high school, it is easy to pick and choose friends. But Sarah would never do that, she said.

"She was the nicest person to everyone," Krohn, now 22, said. "Every time I saw her in the hallways in high school, even if it had been months, she would never hesitate to smile and say 'Hi, Melanie.' ... That is what I will remember her for: her friendliness. She was always willing to be a friend to you."

Root, who worked at a Bluffs Walgreens store, was "a gorgeous person, both inside and outside," said Johnna Martinez, scholarship manager at Bellevue.

Martinez, who said she worked closely with Root, described a dedicated, driven young woman who worked hard and fought for her opportunities.

Root was interested in a career as a crime lab technician, Martinez said. She was taught at Bellevue by Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, who is also an adjunct instructor at the school.

Police said the collision happened about 2:15 a.m. Root also was eastbound on L Street, in a 2002 Oldsmobile Bravada.

Her sport utility vehicle was slowing or stopped at the intersection with 33rd Street when it was rear-ended by a 2000 Chevrolet pickup driven by Mejia, authorities say. Both drivers were taken to the Nebraska Medical Center, where Root was declared brain dead.

Mejia, who doesn't have a valid driver's license, was treated at the medical center for a leg injury before he was booked into the Douglas County Jail. Niklitschek said he's not sure if his client will be able to raise bail, but he did say Mejia has "a lot of family in Omaha."

Mejia also appeared Monday in Douglas County Court, where he pleaded guilty to driving while his license was suspended and failure to secure a child's safety seat. The judge dismissed two other charges, including failure to appear in court, before sentencing Mejia to one day in jail and a $50 fine.

Services for Root are scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Hoy-Kilnoski Funeral Home in Council Bluffs, followed by a candle-lighting ceremony at 7 p.m. Sunday night in Bayliss Park.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1272, kevin.cole@owh.com

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