Whatever it was, the sheriff didn’t want me to see it. Not because I’m a journalist or because he didn’t want me to know – because he was trying to watch out for me. Because he’s a dad. Because he understood that whatever it was, I didn’t need that image in my mind.
My name is Christi Warren, and I’m the new cops and courts reporter at Sauk Valley Media. My background is in magazines: politics and music journalism, which means that Monday was my first time ever to cover a car accident. Ipso facto, it was also my first time ever to cover one that involved a fatality.
Monday was the first time I’ve ever been a little shaken by a story. You see, my little sister is 19. The same age as the man who died in Monday’s rollover. And I’m not much older, just about the same age as the rest of the young men involved in the accident.
I didn’t know anyone in the band, but I know other kids just like them. A number of my friends in bands are out on summer tours right now. Reggae bands, grunge bands, punk rock bands. All good girls and boys (most of the time, anyway), all from good families, all out on the road for the summer. It’s like camp, but for grown-ups, they’ve told me.
And I get it. I totally get it. What better way to spend your summer than road-tripping around the country with your best friends, getting paid to do what you love?
For the guys in that Ram 3500, Sioux City, Iowa – where they had played a show the night before – would be the last stop with all of their members. The moment 19-year-old Colton Ericksen was thrown from the car made sure of it.
As soon as the call came over the scanner, I left the newsroom. Got in my car and drove west out Interstate 88 until I saw it. Emergency vehicles lined the road, a white van rested on its side in the median. I’d heard it on the scanner, but I was here to confirm it: one fatality.
Monday was a hot day. Sticky. Not particularly enjoyable weather for a girl from Southern California. I started sweating pretty much from the moment I got out of my car. Being that the wreck happened on the eastbound side of the highway and that those lanes had been closed, my only option was to park on the west and cross the median. So I did, biding my time until the westbound traffic eased before I crossed the highway and trudged through the thigh-high weeds. Not a good day to be wearing a skirt.
A drum kit, a skateboard, guitar cases, and clothes littered the eastbound side of I-88 – thrown from the white van as it careened out of control near the Lyndon Road overpass, just after 1 p.m., before rolling to a stop in the median.
Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi pointed out a large drum in the weeds. It bore a circular band logo: Dark Seas. After the van was uprighted, it became clear that its side panels shared that symbol.
Hailing from Salt Lake City, the members of Dark Seas were on their summer tour: en route from Sioux City to play a show in Chicago that night.
The 19-year-old who was killed was a guitarist.
The trail of debris along the highway followed the van’s fatal path east, a few spots of blood stained the road nearest the area where the overturned van sat. Whatever else there was, presumably, had been washed away – the asphalt wet and steaming in the heat.
I came upon a single blood-soaked sneaker, the same brand I and many of my friends love to wear.
Band stickers, CDs and posters were cleared from the weeds as I stood with Sheriff Wilhelmi, talking and waiting for the “wrecker” to come and flip the van upright.
In front of us a pink iPod rested on an amplifier, and beyond it all, the white Ram 3500 bearing Utah plates lay in the grass.