Archive for Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Two 21-year-olds die in Lawrence accident

Police continuing investigation into cause of crash

July 19, 2006

Lawrence police continue to investigate an accident that claimed the lives of two 21-year-old Tonganoxie men early Friday in Lawrence.

Jacob Wyrick and Benjamin Pickert were traveling on Iowa Street in Wyrick's Ford Mustang when the vehicle slammed into a semi trailer. Obituaries for the two young men appear on page 2A of today's Mirror.

Although police previously thought the accident report would be complete Tuesday, Kim Murphree, Lawrence police spokeswoman, said the department still is gathering information about the accident that killed the two 2003 Tonganoxie High School graduates.

"The investigation has not reached its completion," Murphree said Tuesday afternoon . "They're still finalizing the report."

Police are looking at whether speed, weather and alcohol contributed to the accident, which occurred about 2 a.m. Friday. Murphree said she didn't have a timeline for when the investigation would be finalized.

"We want to be correct, as well as efficient," Murphree said.

During the past few days, family and friends in Tonganoxie have said their goodbyes to the two young men.

At dusk Saturday, Tonganoxie's Chieftain Park was aglow with more than 200 candles that were lit to celebrate the lives of Pickert and Wyrick.

"Two of the best friends I've ever had. I love you guys," Josh Hunter, 21, shouted out while gripping a lighted candle in each hand.

Friends and family members leaned on one another as they worked through their grief and shock.

"Without my family and without my friends and without the support of the community, I really don't know what I would do," said Jacque Egnatic, Pickert's mother.

Several of the pair's classmates from Tonganoxie High School's class of 2003 organized the vigil as a way to show support to the two families.

"We didn't want each other to sit around and mourn and cry," said Shann Trieb, 21, a close friend of both.

The families have accepted an outpouring of support since the accident.

Wyrick was driving his 2001 Ford Mustang, while Pickert was a passenger.

Police said the young men were headed south on Iowa Street when they hit a semitrailer driven by 58-year-old Paul Labourdette of Quebec, Canada. The wreck happened about 2 a.m., during heavy rains.

"The rainfall hit hardest about the time of the accident," Murphree said. "I have that from the folks who were on patrol."

Police said Labourdette was heading north but had stopped in the street when he saw the Mustang spinning out of control, coming toward him.

"He was doing everything he could to avoid the accident," Murphree said. "The car was spinning. It spun into and hit the tractor-trailer."

Both Wyrick and Pickert were pronounced dead at the scene.

Murphree said she didn't have information yet about whether the men were wearing seatbelts.

Hunter said Pickert and Wyrick that night had made plans to go to Cadillac Ranch, 2515 W. Sixth St. in Lawrence, a frequent hangout.

Egnatic said her family still knew little about details of the accident. She also spoke about supporting Wyrick's family. Later, she embraced Bouldin at the vigil.

"They are holding in a lot of the guilt that it was Jake that was driving, and I don't feel any resentment at all," Egnatic said.

Pickert's cousin, Diane Thompson, said blame shouldn't be an issue.

"It's unimportant what happened," Thompson said. "It was an accident and a wreck. It's done,"

The two sudden deaths have left the community shaken.

"You lose two at once -- it's devastating," Hunter said.

Time for reflection

The days after the accident also have allowed for reflection on the two young men, who friends and family members say were always looking to have fun and who kept their friends close.

"Whatever you could do, Jake could do it better," Trieb said.

Hunter called Wyrick a perfectionist, especially while working for Dripbusters Guttering in Tonganoxie. Wyrick also was somewhat of a prankster with a hint of sarcasm in him, he said.

"If Jacob was sarcastic to you, that meant Jacob would do everything and anything for you," said Wyrick's cousin, Ray Ward.

Hunter, Trieb and other close friends said they planned to wear pink to Wyrick's funeral, which was Monday at the Tonganoxie Christian Church.

"He said he was the only one who could pull off pink," Hunter said. "He was so sure of it."

Pickert's funeral was Tuesday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tonganoxie.

Car enthusiasts

Pickert and Wyrick both enjoyed working on their cars with friends and showing them off.

Before Saturday's vigil, many waited several minutes in line to sign a wheel from Wyrick's Ford Mustang and Pickert's Honda.

"He loved cars," said classmate Karley Bennett, referring to Pickert. "Ben got a Honda Accord and I think our senior year he got it.

"We were in auto mechanics class together. He was always messing with it and thinking he was cool because he had a Honda Accord."

Wyrick, meanwhile, was proud of his muscle car, Bennett said.

"He loved his Mustang, too," Bennett said.

Bennett recalled playing basketball as a youth with Wyrick and other classmates.

She also had memories of Wyrick in high school.

"Jake was always good to talk to," Bennett said. "He usually understood where people were coming from.

"No matter how much he liked someone, he would always stick up for them. He was really good to his friends."

Janelle McCoy, another classmate of Wyrick and Pickert's, worked with Pickert at Cheeseburger in Paradise in Kansas City, Kan.

McCoy said the two also worked together at Badd Jack's, a former Tonganoxie restaurant, in high school.

"I would say that he was an overall good guy," McCoy said. "He has this personality that no matter what, you could get along with him. He was funny or he was sincere."

Wyrick grew up in Tonganoxie, while Pickert moved to Tonganoxie in 2002 from Leavenworth, where he attended Immaculata High School.

"By the end of high school, everyone knew and liked Ben Pickert," McCoy said.

Good friends

When Pickert and Wyrick were together, they would often let out "big ol' laughs" and flash "big ol' grins," Thompson said.

Egnatic said her son frequently was energetic.

"From the time he was born, he would go and go and go," she said. "Then the house would be quiet. We couldn't find Ben, and it would be because he would be falling over asleep."

Pickert spent time with his friends, and he was close to Hunter and his girlfriend, Toni Kim.

His grandparents in June sent the family, Pickert and Hunter on a trip to Las Vegas to celebrate each of them turning 21 this year.

"That was just the best thing that could have actually happened before this, because it was such a wonderful time," Thompson said.

Pickert planned to attend Kansas University in the fall and pursue a business degree as did his older brother, Justin, who now lives in Chesterfield, Mo.

-- Reporters Mike Belt and Eric Weslander contributed to this story.

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