As a gray sky let loose a pelting hailstorm across a grassy
hillside of Meyer Ranch Park at dusk Monday, more than 100 teens, there
to honor 16-year-old friends Justin Dorrance of Evergreen and Clyde
"Rusty" Gallegos of Pine, vanished into a stand of trees to
wait for a shift in the weather.
The hail ceased but turned to a steady rain,
yet their resolve to hold a candlelight vigil remained firm as they
flicked lighters repeatedly to ensure their candles held a flame, then
stood shoulder to shoulder in a great circle for a moment of silence.
Most words were uttered privately as the teens
huddled and huggedwith the exception
of an occasional outburst when someone cried out above the rain, "I
love you Justin and Rusty!"
Scattered among them were a few parents who
were more than grateful that their sons had been spared in a car crash
that cost the lives of the two teens on May 11, on South Elk Creek Road
near Sphinx Park.
Parents such as Barbara Moyce, whose son Matthew
McGann was pulled to safety: "I just wish they could have all walked
away." And parent Talitha Emarine, mother of 16-year-old survivor
Shane Mathre and a 6-day-old son, Hammer, who was bundled in her lap.
Emarine was overcome with grief when Shane called
her during an ambulance ride to Denver last Friday to inform her of
the accident. He was safe, he told her, but his friend Justin "didn't
Seven teens ranging in age from 15 to 17 were
traveling in a Jeep sport utility vehicle driven by Justin Dorrance
that afternoon when the vehicle entered a narrow section of the road,
slid off the side and came to rest upside down in Elk Creek, which was
filled with rushing water from recent spring snows.
Law enforcement officials are still piecing
together what happened after the rollover, and so are family and friends.
But one thing was clear to students Monday night
regarding the companions they had lostthese
boys were special; one was remembered by family as a "people person,"
playful, a "confidant" to friends; the other was a quiet,
introspective teengenuine, "calm
and centered"who befriended
According to police reports, speed was not a
factor in the rollover, and the teens were sensitive to that detail.
"It's not like he was being a reckless
teen," one female friend of Justin said at the vigil. The son of
her school bus driver had driven into the same creek last year on another
section of the road, the teen said, and she believes the road to be
While three of the students were able to exit
the Jeep soon after the crash, some through a rear window, others remained
trapped as the boys tried to free them. Those three included Conifer
teens Patrick McIntyre, 16, Reece Stapish, 16, and John "Tucker"
Frost, 17, of Littleton.
Tucker Frost, the friends say, rescued Shane
Mathre, 16, from the passenger seat and Matthew McGann, 15, who was
pinned by his seat belt in the center of the backseat next to Rusty.
Tucker also pulled Rusty from the vehicle, though he was pronounced
dead at St. Anthony Hospital after he was taken there by Flight for
Tucker was reserved about the experience and
said little at the ceremony, other than to acknowledge the three rescues.
But others who knew him admired him greatly for what he had done.
"Tucker is a stud, man!" said a friend
named Luke. "I love that kid."
Matthew McGann, a passenger in the middle of
the back seat, remembers that the right side of the car "just dropped
off" that fateful day.
"The road narrowed really fast, and the
edge gave awaywhen we were going
sideways, everyone was like, 'Oh my God!' " McGann said.
Next thing McGann knew, he was hanging upside
down, strapped in his seat belt, his head in water. He lost his vision
for a time, then regained it, he said, as he struggled to hold his head
up to reach a small breathing space of "only a couple of inches"
above the river's current.
"I called out, 'Can anyone hear me?' "
McGann said. He heard the voices of friends say, "Stay calm."
Then, they yelled at him to "open the door." He managed to
unlock the door, then open it, he said.
"Tucker climbed in and pulled me out; he
had a small knife on him (to cut the seat belt)," McGann said,
noting it took about 25 minutes to free him and emergency personnel
had arrived. "They hooked up a tow rope to a tree, and I grabbed
The seat belt issue also was sensitive for the
teens because they believe all but the two boys in the far back compartment
of the five-passenger Jeep were restrained, according to what friends
have told them, despite initial police reports to the contrary.
It could be awhile before the shock passes for
McGann and the others involved in the accidentfor
the immensity of it to lift and more clarity to surface.
But the somber teens seemed satisfied Monday
that they had taken the first step in the healing process.
After the clouds were spent of moisture and
the dark gray sky began to clear, they headed back down the hillside
to their cars, leaving fresh, deep footprints along the muddy walkways.
"Rusty was one of my best friendshe
just meant so much to me," Alyssa Elzinga said later that night.
"I have a lot of good memories; I have just got to remember that
they will outlast the pain."