Kahuku star Keo had a dream of pro football

Kahuku police examine the auto wreck that killed former Kahuku High School football star Jason Keo. Photo by Barry Markowitz, special to the Star-Bulletin

The teen-ager was killed Sunday in a North Shore auto accident

Jason Keo's dream of someday playing professional football ended when his car skidded off a slippery North Shore roadway and crashed early yesterday.

"He used to say I'm going to be a pro and earn some money to take care of you and dad," Angeline Keo said of her 17-year-old son, a Kahuku High School graduate and one of the premier running backs in the state.

He was killed yesterday in a predawn crash on Kamehameha Highway in Laie.

"I want to remember my son as an energetic person who enjoyed life as it came along," she added. "Jason loved sports, especially football. It was the love of his life."

Jason Keo, as a member of the Kahuku High School football team, was one of the premiere running backs in the state. He was headed for BYU on a football scholarship.

Keo lost control of the 1995 Plymouth Neon after failing to negotiate an S-curve near Wahinepee Street at about 4:44 a.m.

The car veered off the highway, collided with a utility pole and continued on before crashing into a wall at the Cackle Fresh Outlet Store.

Keo was pronounced dead at the scene at 5:18 a.m. Two other boys in the car, ages 17 and 18, escaped with minor injuries.

Air bags for the driver and front-seat passenger opened on impact but Keo, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, appears to have been struck on the head as the car passed a utility pole, police said.

Driving conditions were cloudy and rainy. Speed was a contributing factor, police said. An autopsy will determine if alcohol was also a factor.

"We're sad that it happened," Mrs. Keo said, "but life goes on. We have five other children to take care of and they're going to miss Jason, too."

Keo was planning to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, on a football scholarship.

"It's such a tragedy," said University of Hawaii football assistant Doug Semones, Keo's coach at Kahuku. "He had so much life and energy ... and such a bright future in front of him.

The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Keo rushed for 1,176 yards at Damien in 1994 to capture the Interscholastic League of Honolulu rushing title before transferring to Kahuku for his senior year.

A fractured collarbone, however, kept Keo on the sidelines for all but Kahuku's last five games.

"He was such a fierce competitor," Semones said. "He loved to play. When he was injured, it was hard for him not to play. We had to keep telling him to wait, that things were going to happen.

"And he did so much to help us win the (Oahu Interscholastic Association) championship and go to the Prep Bowl."

Against Waianae in last year's OIA championship game, Keo ran for 269 yards and scored two touchdowns, leading the Red Raiders to a 33-20 victory.

Keo was the leading ground-gainer in the last Prep Bowl game, amassing 115 yards and scoring a touchdown in Kahuku's 27-26 loss to St. Louis.

"As a teammate, he was one of the guys everybody looked to," said Kahuku quarterback Kolo Funaki. "When it was crunch time, I was glad I could hand the ball to him. He was a guy who always had fun, always found something to be happy about, even when times were hard," Funaki added. "I was looking forward to watching him play in college."

Keo, a Hauula resident, began working at the Polynesian Cultural Center last week to earn spending money for college.

"He was looking forward to going to Provo," Mrs. Keo said. "We sent him to Kahuku for his senior year because he wanted to play with his friends from here.

Keo is also survived by his father, David; brothers Aaron and Jared, and sisters Leone Saaga, Mahealani and Uilani Keo.