Joseph Tutaj, Seaford HS teen, dies suddenly on band trip
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A Seaford High School sophomore who traveled to Los Angeles with the school's marching band last week died there Tuesday after being hospitalized with a high fever, a family member said Wednesday.
Joseph Tutaj, 15, a trumpeter who earlier had reported feeling too ill to fly home, died at Ronald Reagan Medical Center, which is affiliated with the University of California, Los Angeles, school officials said.
The officials cited a hospital report stating the student's illness was not contagious, adding that they and family members were trying to obtain more medical details.
The student's father, Robert Tutaj, 56, who is battling stage four cancer, described his 6- foot-2 son as a "gentle giant" who had worked hard to support his family during a difficult period in their lives.
The Tutajes were flooded out of their Seaford home during superstorm Sandy and have been living temporarily in Bethpage.
"He was the light of my life, always kept me going through all this," Robert Tutaj said, his voice choked with emotion.
Joseph Tutaj joined 80 other band members for a trip to Disneyland, where the group was to perform. The band often has traveled to play, including overseas. The Los Angeles trip was scheduled for Feb. 14-20, the school's website said.
The teenager played the French horn as well as trumpet, had participated in Model Congress and Mathletes competitions and was an avid computer user, his father said.
A Boy Scout, the sophomore recently attained Life Scout rank and was working toward Eagle designation, Robert Tutaj said.
Eileen Tutaj was in Los Angeles Wednesday, preparing to bring her son's body home, the father said. A younger sister, Emily, is a seventh-grader at Seaford Middle School.
The school district, in a statement, called the death an "unspeakable tragedy."
Seaford Superintendent Brian Conboy said Joseph Tutaj was "a person of high character."
"It was a complete shock," he said.
Grief counselors will be on hand at the high school Thursday to talk to students or families requesting help, officials said.