Community reflects on a life well lived |

Community reflects on a life well lived

Ryan Slabaugh
Brett HartmanHootman's mother Susan Spiegel, left, his brother, CJ Spiegel, and step-father Chris Spiegel shed tears as they watch a slid show of Hootman's life.

Hootman, a 16-year-old student known for his clever wit, died Saturday in a car accident before the Homecoming dance.

The community gathered to share stories of Hootman, who played baseball, golfed, ski raced and spent his afternoons patrolling local rivers and lakes for fish. Cars lined the streets, filled the high school parking lot and grocery store’s lot across an intersection monitored by police. The mourners filled the high school’s auditorium and spilled over into the hallway outside, where television monitors relayed the emotions of the ceremony.

As minister Jeff Hanson said, to start the ceremony, “The flowers here today speak to us of hearts, of Skylar’s, and of the heavenly home of God.”

As classmate Casey Strickler sang “Wind Beneath My Wings,” the congregation spilled outside, under the misty clouds. They could hear, barely, the words of Hootman’s baseball and basketball coach, Derek Cordes, who told a story about the first time he met Skylar.

“He was wearing a hat and on the hat, it said, “Badass,” Cordes said. Laughter followed. “I asked him if what the hat said was true. He looked away for a moment. Then he said, “You better believe it,’ and walked away.”

More laughter.

The ceremony swayed between the tragic reality of a young man’s death, and the heartfelt stories about a kid who loved life. Hootman’s girlfriend, Jessica Wurtsmith, might have known him best. She told stories of bumming around on lazy afternoons, freestyling words and listening to music. In her speech, she said, “I’m glad I didn’t know how it would end. I loved him.”

Friends read poems, sharing the meaning they’ve derived from his passing. Charles Faulhaber, a student at Eagle Valley, started his speech, “I would love to share the jokes Skylar and I told each other, but the content wouldn’t be appropriate.”

More laughter.

“He was always optimistic he’d grow up to be bigger than me,” Faulhaber said about Hootman, as skinny as he was humorous. “As I look at the pictures of him recently, he was gaining on me.”

Hanson quoted Psalms 23, “He leads me to still waters… I fear no evil.”

Other friends took to the podium with melancholy eyes.

Charly Hoehn, another friend, talked about when she moved to Eagle Valley, and how Skylar introduced her to everyone, whether she liked it or not.

“Maybe that’s what he’s doing in heaven,” Hoehn said. “He’s meeting everyone and making preparations for his friends.”

Nathaniel Gallegos and Kyle Lottman finished the tributes.

“It was awesome to have a kid, a friend, compete with me on who could slack the most and get the best grades,” Lottman said.

More laughs. Everyone knew Hootman got straight As.

Hanson then addressed the students in the crowd.

“For his friends, your world’s been shaken,” he said. “You think death is something for old people… You thing it can’t touch us when we’re young, while we’re dreaming, and growing. You know it’s not true. You know we’re all mortal.”

After the memorial, the hundreds filed out to the baseball field, where dozens of balloons were released, to symbolize the freedom he expressed with his life. The clouds, by then, had passed, and the balloons became small dots, a flock of color that, like Skylar, slipped through everyone’s hands.

With the help of private sponsors and the Eagle Valley Booster Club, a feast had been prepared and covered six tables. As a final touch, the masses were fed. Hootman’s stepfather, Chris Spiegel, said afterwards, “This has been amazing. We are proud.”

For those wishing to contribute more than flowers, donations can be made to the Skylar Hootman Memorial Fund at any Eagle County FirstBank location. Donations being mailed should be sent to FirstBank of Avon, P.O. Box 5270, Avon, CO 81620. Attn. Skylar Hootman Memorial Fund. Call 328-9600.

Son of folk legend James Taylor, Ben Taylor, will perform a free outdoor concert Oct. 9 in Edwards. All money will go to the memorial fund.

Passenger update

Laura Sandoval, a passenger in Saturday’s accident near Edwards that killed 16-year-old Eagle Valley High School Student Skylar Hootman, was moved out of the intensive care unit at Denver Health Medical Center late Tuesday night.

Sandoval is now listed in fair condition, according to Sara Spaulding, a spokesperson for the Medical Center.

Travis Hansbarger, 17, is still in the ICU. He is listed in serious condition because of head injuries sustained when he was thrown out of the vehicle.

According to Spaulding, a patient will remain in the ICU until his or her conditions are not determined by a doctor to be life threatening.

Because Sandoval and Hansbarger are minors, details of their injuries will not be available.

Ryan Slabaugh is a sports writer for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555 ext. 608 or at

Support Local Journalism