Aim high, have fun
GYPSUM – Every 31 minutes, drunken drivers plunge another American family into the kind of anguish that’s hammering the families of Jake Brock and Jennifer Kois.In 2005, 16,885 families were so devastated, according to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.On the day more than 1,000 people gathered to celebrate, mourn and comfort – a “community of consolation,” the priest called it – Jake’s father and mother, Vern and Marilyn Brock, walked onto a lawn at Eagle Valley High School to face the media for the first time since a disbarred bail bondsman, booked on charges of murder and drunken driving, rammed the car Jake and Jennifer were riding in Thursday night, killing both of them. Tuesday was Jake’s memorial service. Jennifer’s is Thursday in the Denver area. They were both students at Mesa State College. Both were 19.”I want my wife by my side,” Vern said while he and Marilyn faced a bank of television cameras and reporters minutes before Jake’s service.
And so continued another black day for the Brock family. Not the first they’ve suffered through since the crash that killed their son and brother, and not the last.As Marilyn held his arm, Vern spoke clearly and steadily. His son is dead, but if he and others join the fight against drunken driving maybe other sons and daughters won’t die like this. Maybe other families won’t have to live with the agony the death of a child brings. He said he plans to work with Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, Eagle Valley High School’s Devils Against Drinking and Drugs, and help push legislation dealing with high-speed pursuits by police and how DUIs are processed.”This sort of tragedy is too much for any family or any community to bear,” Vern said. “By taking these actions, hopefully some other family and community will be spared the pain and sorrow we’re experiencing.”He won’t pass judgments and he won’t jump to conclusions about the case, or about the driver of the SUV that killed his son and son’s girlfriend. Patrick Strawmatt, 42, of Westminister, had been arrested at least 10 times since 1994 and was free on bond on charges that he had assaulted a sheriff when the State Patrol tried to stop him on Insterstate 70 near Palisade around 10 p.m.
“I’m an engineer by profession and disposition,” Vern said. “We’ll gather all the facts ad information, then we’ll determine a course of action.”Strawmatt’s toxicology report is due out later this week. The Mesa County district attorney has scheduled arraignment for next week.Pam Van Overbeke, MADD’s state victim advocate, was there to offer support to the family and a quick semantics lesson to the assembled media. The facts are fairly clear: Strawmatt is alleged to have been drunk as he eluded police, and was traveling an estimated 120 mph when he struck the Saturn Jake and Jennifer were driving toward Grand Junction.”People need to stop calling this an accident. This was no accident,” Vanoverbeke said. “This was a crash, and it was 100 percent preventable.”
During Tuesday’s funeral, held in the gym of the high school where Jake graduated, as did his father and grandfather before him, Vern announced that Jennifer’s parents were among the mourners.”I never realized this place would become holy ground for me,” Vern told the crowd. “Looking at the devil mascot, I realize that this is indeed a black day. I also remember that Jake’s favorite color was Eagle Valley red.”Life from death
He also announced that Jake had agreed to be an organ donor. Jake will give life through his arteries, enable someone to walk on his knees, someone to see with his corneas and a long list of others whose lives he will touch for the better.”This will help others, but not us, for the rest of their lives,” Vern said.They couldn’t donate Jake’s smile or his gift for having fun. After a trip to Lake Powell with family and friends, another parent on the trip told Vern that Jake “is the perfect boy.” The lengths to which he would go in the name of fun became the stuff of legend.Like jumping off cliffs at Lake Powell; being scolded for arriving late to school and then getting a speeding ticket the next day when he tried to make it on time; heading up Red Mountain in a Mercury Sable with an undersized donut-spare tire on; or getting his truck stuck then fixing a flat tire that he fixed in the dark while trying to meet some friends camping, and finally arriving at 2 a.m., shouting, “I’m here!” More than a dozen Eagle Valley classmates and friends told stories. They all had a common theme: Jake Brock was always smiling.
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened,” said one young woman.Jake’s Mesa State College hockey teammates came to present Jake’s family with his No. 10 jersey.”He was prone to putting 10 pounds of fun in a 5-pound sack,” Vern said, smiling as he addressed the crowd. “He wore his pants low, his hats rotated, and his spirit high.”When it was over, red and purple balloons – red was Jake’s favorite color, and purple was Jennifer’s favorite color – lifted from Eagle’s Sunset View Cemetery. As friends dropped flowers and bits of earth into Jake’s grave, amid the tears and hugs, Vern’s advice to the funeral crowd floated through the memory. “Reach high for your goals, smile, wear your seatbelts, and don’t drink and drive.”
One father, shaking hands with friends as he was leaving, said “I’m going home to hug my children.”He suggested his friends do the same. They replied that while they could they would, too.Contact Randy Wyrick at at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 9790-748-2983.
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