As you step into the Blue Point home of Jo Ann and Luigi Schettino, one of the first things that catches the eye is a vibrant portrait of their son, Billy, who died March 14 after he was hit by a sheriff’s car on the LIE while awaiting help following a hit-and-run accident.
The painting, which hangs next to the front door in the family's living room, was created by Bayport-Blue Point art teacher Ronald Brandt, who said he was inspired by the teen’s love of art and was born out of a class lesson Brandt began a week after Schettino’s death. Schettino, an 18-year-old Bayport Blue Point graduate, had been an art student of Brandt’s in his first year of teaching at the high school several years ago and had taken drawing and painting classes.
“One of my classes had just began a new photo project in which one color is used but various photos are incorporated and I immediately thought of a photo I had taken of Billy back then, when he was wearing a lot of red...a red hat and a red shirt. I immediately realized that the family would love the picture, and that I wanted to do a portrait," recalls Brandt, who is in his fourth year as a district art teacher.
The painting took about 12 hours over the course of four to five class days. Brandt presented it to the family shortly after Schettino’s funeral service. The artwork represents both Schettino’s passion for art and his spirit as an artist, said Brandt.
“He was such a good kid. He was a very enthusiastic artist with a distinct style and he liked to do his own thing,” he said, adding that sometimes Schettino’s strong will as an artist would sometimes create a slight clash of opinion between the teacher and student.
“He was always making something, always creating and putting things together and sometimes it didn’t exactly match up to the class assignment,” Brandt explained with a laugh.
As strong as his love of art so was Schettino’s compassion and thoughtfulness, said Brandt, recalling how the teen helped raise money to buy a new camera that a visiting student had lost.
Schettino took on a similar effort for Brandt when the teacher's iPod went missing one day.
“He was the kid in class who was always into wanting to know what music I was playing that day. As I’m a collector of music I enjoyed that he wanted to hear what was on my iPod. One day it went missing and Billy spearheaded an effort to buy me another,” said Brandt, adding “he always went above and beyond like that.”
As a token of thanks Brandt made the teenager a mix CD to give to him the last week of school before Schettino graduated but he never got the chance.
“I still have that play list and I listen to it. It helps remind me of what a great kid he was and what he did for others and how focused he was on his dream of being an artist.”