Gone too soon
EAGLE – The last thing Jake Brock did on this earth was make his father smile.Vern Brock, exhausted, devastated, pulled the sheets feet first off his dead son’s body. Jake’s toenails had been painted pink. Probably the work of his new girlfriend and some of her friends. She’s dead, too.Vern held on to those feet. He and his family hold on to everything they can.Vern and Marilyn are the proud parents of three delightful young people. They were in bed at 11 p.m. when the call came. At first the hospital officials in Grand Junction asked what seemed to be insane questions. Is this the Brock residence? Do you have a son named Jake? Finally they came to the point. There’s been an accident. Your son is in critical condition.
By the time they could get to the hospital, Jake wasn’t critical. He was dead. He died at 12:15 a.m. They didn’t make it to the hospital in Grand Junction until 1 p.m.Less than 24 hours after getting the call that their son and his girlfriend had been in a traffic accident, hit from behind on I-70 by a driver hurtling through the Mesa County darkness at 120 mph, the Brocks were having a tough time talking about Jake in the past tense. What words do you use to summarize the life of a 19-year-old so full of promise and hope?Two words, “Too short,” spring to mind.His hockey skates still hang from the stairway bannister at home. His hockey bag rests in the corner of the living room, the gear finally clean. He brought it home last week. Marilyn had to wash everything several times to get it clean. Heaven forbid it should be washed during the season.
Back homeThe folks at the hospital gave them their sympathy, along with Jake’s wallet and the pocket knife he always carried, at the end of that long and awful day. The next night in the familys living room it was passed briefly from one family member to another, then quickly back to Vern. Its supposed to be the other way around. Sons are supposed to carry their fathers pocket knives as keepsakes.Friday night, friends and family steadily streamed through the house offering sympathy and support. The phone rang and rang.Vern exhorted Jakes friends to aim higher, go harder, be more. Its what Jake would have wanted them to do. The familys many friends offered to do anything they can. What they really want, what everyone wants, what goes unsaid, is that they want to keep Patrick Strawmatt, 42, of Westminister, from driving under the influence of whatever he might have been under when he allegedly killed those two teenagers. They want to keep Strawmatt from taunting police with obscene gestures from inside his moving car and allowing the officers to pull alongside as they sped west on Interstate 70 near Palisade, as police say he did. What they want is to keep him from eluding police by accelerating from 30 mph to 120 mph, the speed police say he was traveling when he allegedly killed Jake Brock and Jennifer Kois. Both students at Mesa State College. Both 19.What they want to know, as they wander around the Brocks home wishing none of it were true, is why Strawmatt was reportedly spitting blood at the firefighters using the Jaws of Life, trying to cut him out of his demolished SUV. What they want to know is why the firefighters bothered.Strawmatts father told a television reporter he wants his son locked up and never let out. He is not alone.Pictures, memoriesPictures are everywhere in the house. Jake and his sister, Kathryn, the oldest. Jake, Kathryn and their brother Weston, the youngest. It was Weston who insisted they call Kathryn from the road, as they were headed toward the hospital in Grand Junction. A cousin drove all night to bring Kathryn. They’re a family. They stick together. It’s what families do. The crowd thins and the family sits down in the living room to thumb through beautifully done scrapbooks and photo albums Marilyn and Kathryn compiled. There’s Jake fishing and smiling. There’s Jake on the Eagle Valley High School track team running and smiling. There’s Jake with his arms around his family and smiling.
The stories fly around the room.There was the time Jake was the only guy on a Survivor team during Eagle Flight Days a couple years back. They had to be able to name the state capitals and eat a raw egg. They named the state capitals. Jake ate the raw egg.And the time, at Eagle’s first mountain bike race several years ago, there was young Jake on his heavy kid-sized mountain bike, poised at the starting line and looking up at Vern from under his helmet and asking, “How far is 10K?”Or the time the new neighbors moved in just up the street and Jake found a new playmate, Tom, who knew how to make the coolest paper airplanes. When Vern and Marilyn went over a couple days later, they met a young couple in their 20s, Tom and his wife. They asked where young Tom was, the child Jake had been playing with. “Oh,” the wife replied. “There are no children. He’s been playing with my husband.”Jake was not materialistic. Money didn’t matter much to him. If he had it, he spent it, especially if fun ensued. There were the $250 Oakleys sunglasses bought for the state Nordic ski meet. Someone broke into the locker room and stole them. Jake barely shrugged. His car came home one day riddled with about $3,000 worth of dents and scratches, the aftermath of trying to wedge a black Mercury Sable down a narrow road that had to be bested – and bested it was. The car’s lower gears went out and Jake had to get a running start to get it moving forward so he could make it to school. One day Vern saw him backing uphill in the road in front of their house, then blasting back down the road toward I-70 and the trip to Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum. Turns out, the car wouldn’t move from a standing start, so he had to back it up that hill to get it rolling forward, so he could get it gear, so he could get to school on time. This had been going on for weeks. From the school parking lot, which has no uphill up which an enterprising lad can ascend to get rolling forward. That sort of inertia requires friends. Lots and lots of friends, which works out well because Jake had lots and lots of friends.The car finally died in that parking lot on the day of his high school graduation. Which was also the day teachers grabbed a cooler filled with Mountain Dew that Jake had stashed under his assigned chair, apparently planning to drink it during the ceremony. When he reached his chair, the cooler was gone. Jake thought his family had nabbed it, but they didn’t know what happened to it, either, only that the length of the graduation was about as long as they’d seen him go without a Mountain Dew.And what about the time Jake and a bunch of his friends decided to go four-wheeling in a stinky mud bog near Bill and Raenette Johnson’s house. Of course they ended up stuck in the mud at midnight, and of course one of them had to procure one of their father’s four-wheel drive vehicles to pull them all out. And of course they were covered with mud.There’s only one thing to do at a time like that. Come back the next day in your swimming trunks and ski goggles, riding a four-wheeler so you can pull your buddies back and forth across the mud.This they did every night for a week. A great time was had by all. When Jake emerged from the mud and lifted his goggles, all anyone could see were those laughing eyes and that smile. The one that started in his soul and didn’t stop until it lit up his face and the face of everyone around him.When you think of Jake Brock, think of him smiling.