Monday was the kind of difficult day that would have had Derby High School freshman Braxton Kooser’s friends seeking him out.
“He was the best person to be around if you were ever upset,” classmate Aubrey Buzzi said. “He would always listen – always give the greatest advice.”
But Braxton wasn’t available to help his hurting friends Monday. He was the reason they were grieving.
He was killed when the Dodge Durango a friend was driving left a gravel portion of 87th Street South early Saturday morning, went into the ditch and rolled several times, authorities said. Braxton, 14, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Braxton had gone to see “Silver Linings Playbook” with a group of friends, said Brady Rust, a classmate and friend. They had dropped one of the friends off in rural Sedgwick County and were on their way back to town when the accident occurred.
The driver, 14-year-old Caleb Sheldon, lost control of the Durango as he was driving west near Webb Road, Sedgwick County sheriff’s Capt. Annette Haga said.
“We do believe that speed is a contributing factor,” Haga said.
Braxton was ejected as the Durango rolled in the ditch. Haga said investigators are still examining the vehicle.
Sheldon, the driver, was taken to Wesley Medical Center for treatment and was released from the hospital Sunday, a hospital employee said. One passenger, 15-year-old Kaleb Kelley, was in fair condition at Wesley early Monday afternoon. A second passenger, 15-year-old Alex Helt, was treated and released from Wesley on Saturday.
State law requires 14-year-olds with an instruction permit to have a licensed adult in the front seat when they drive. A farm permit allows 14-year-olds to drive to school and to and from work on a farm.
The investigation into the crash is ongoing, Haga said. She said no citations have been issued yet.
Braxton loved Kansas State University, so students, teachers and staff at Derby wore purple in his memory on Monday. So did students at Derby Middle School and members of its basketball team.
Students at Norwich and Andover Central were among other schools around the Wichita metropolitan area who wore purple as well after seeing the memorial mentioned on social media.
K-State quarterback Collin Klein and his wife, Shalin, both sent tweets saying they were praying for Braxton’s family and friends.
“Everywhere I look, I see purple – teachers, kids, everyone,” Buzzi said. “It really means a lot to see so many people wearing purple.”
Derby football coach Brandon Clark said Braxton was a leader on the team, even as a freshman.
“He led by example,” Clark said. “He worked very hard.
“He lifted weights before school every day. Not too many freshmen do that.”
Even though he was a freshman, Clark said, it was easy to tell that he was “just a very special athlete” and that he would one day be “one of those football heroes for Derby.”
Grief counselors were made available in the school auditorium for anyone who wanted to talk, Buzzi said. Many students were just hanging out in the auditorium, sharing hugs, tears and stories about Braxton.
He was ornery and loved to joke around with and razz friends, Buzzi said.
“You always knew he was just kidding,” she said. “He would never do anything that actually hurt somebody.”
Everywhere Braxton went, Clark said, he seemed to draw a crowd.
“He was one of those kids that people just flock around,” he said.
They will gather around Braxton again this week. Services are set for 10 a.m. Wednesday at First Christian Church-Powerhouse in Derby. Visitation will be from 1 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Smith Mortuary, 1415 N. Rock Road in Derby.
In lieu of flowers, a memorial has been established with the Braxton Kooser Memorial Fund c/o Verus Bank, P.O. Box 330, Derby, KS 67037.
“I think his leadership traits are going to carry on,” Clark said.
When he was talking with some of Braxton’s friends and teammates, Clark said, he told them, “If you guys want to pay it back, then give all that he gave. You take the traits that you loved and admired and try to instill those traits in yourself.”