Grieving mother receives unexpected memento

Shirley Keener posed with the autographed guitar she won in a raffle during a benefit concert July 27. Keener said she bought the last two tickets sold in memory of her husband, who died last year, and her son, Blake. Blake was one of four young people killed in a July 14 wreck in Guntersville.Shirley Keener posed with the autographed guitar she won in a raffle during a benefit concert July 27. Keener said she bought the last two tickets sold in memory of her husband, who died last year, and her son, Blake. Blake was one of four young people killed in a July 14 wreck in Guntersville.

By Donna Thornton/News Editor

Shirley Keener of Albertville received comfort from an unexpected source after the loss of her 22-year-old son last month in a horrific crash that claimed four lives.

Keener said on July 27 she and family and friends held a memorial service for her son Blake, killed in the July 14 crash, and for her husband David, who died last year.

“We were never able to get everyone together for a memorial service then,” Keener recalled. After the service, she and others were at Giovanni’s in Albertville and someone mentioned the concert that night at Noccalula Falls Park to benefit Sandy’s Place.

“We talked about how we didn’t need to go home and sit,” Keener said, and they decided to go to the concert. “Blake never missed a concert around here,” she said of her son, who attended Etowah High School. “It seemed fitting to go.”

At the concert, in addition to several bands, there were a couple of raffles, including one for a guitar, signed by the members of the Kentucky Headhunters.

Concert organizer Joey Nichols of Falling Eagle Productions said there was a last call for ticket sales, around 8 p.m.

Keener said she decided to buy a ticket in memory of her son and one in memory of her husband.

“I got the last two tickets sold,” Keener said.

About time minutes later, Nichols said he got a kid from the crowd to mix up the tickets well and pull one out.

He drew out one of the two tickets Shirley Keener had bought.

“If that doesn’t prove to you that the good Lord’s at work …” Nichols said.

“When they called those numbers you could have knocked me over with a feather,” Keener said. “The man who presented it to me had to have thought I was crazy,” she said, because she was crying so hard.

“My daughter-in-law told me God knew I needed it.”

Keener, too, sees God’s handiwork in bringing the guitar to her, and she takes comfort in having it. She takes comfort as well in the memory of her son approaching her just a few weeks before the wreck, telling her he’d been saved.

Keener was a passenger July 14 in a pickup truck involved in a two-vehicle crash on U.S. 431 in Guntersville. According to published reports, the crash ejected all the passengers from the truck, most of whom, including Keener, were riding in the bed of the truck.

Four people were killed: Keener, driver Ryan Lawson, 19, Rueben Pacheo, 18, and Maegan Cordell, 13.

Shirley Keener said all the young people involved in the crash in both vehicles were friends, some had been friends for years. She said they had been to one swimming hole and were headed to another when the crash occurred.

“When they left here,” she said of her Albertville home, “they were in an SUV and a car.” At some point in the afternoon outing, she said, they apparently switched to the pickup.

“If one thing comes of this, I hope it’s that they outlaw riding in the bed of a truck like that,” Keener said. “I didn’t know it was not already illegal.” Keener said some of the kids involved in the crash have given incorrect information to investigators. One person involved in the crash was arrested for providing incorrect information. “They’re trying to protect each other,” she said. She said her family still is waiting for the final report from the investigation.

Keener said two others injured in the crash were Etowah County residents: Trey Brothers, 21, and Beth Kuhn, 19. “I think Beth is the only one still in the hospital.”

Keener said it’s been a hard few weeks since losing Blake, the son of her daughter, whom she and her husband adopted when he was four years old.

“He’d tell everyone he was a Momma’s boy,” Keener said, “that he was never going to leave me.”

Blake’s nickname was Caspar, she said, and when he turned 18, his father had gotten him a tattoo of Caspar the Friendly Ghost.

“That’s the way they identified him after the crash,” Keener said, “by the tattoo.”

Many of Blake’s friends have had the nickname or the tattoo in mind in their memorials to him, Keener said.

“They wrote ‘fly high, Casper,’” she said.

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