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'It's just so tragic'

Zoe Greszler • Updated Jun 9, 2017 at 2:22 AM

PLYMOUTH — Dylan Patton’s family broke out in sobs as they approached a makeshift memorial displaying the 17-year-old boy’s picture, a basketball, golf club, balloons, flowers and candles.

His father, Paul Patton, stroked the photo of his now late son and rubbed the picture frame at the candlelight vigil Thursday night in this village.

“I miss you. I miss you so much. I love you so much,” the father said through sobs, rubbing the picture frame over and over.

Dylan had been killed earlier that same day in a pre-dawn traffic accident in northern Richland County. He was driving a pickup truck when he ran a stop sign and collided with an SUV, according to troopers with the state Highway Patrol’s Mansfield post.

Dylan, who just finished his junior year at Plymouth High School, also leaves behind parents Brian and Lana Kennard and an older sister, Taylor.

About 150 people attended the vigil, which was held at the high school’s football field, to light a candle or lantern, share stories and memories of Patton or give encouragement to his family. 

“Sometimes through tragedy we’ll find how precious our loved ones are. Sometimes through tragedy we find strength,” said one friend. “I pray that God gives us the strength to get through this tragedy.”

Paul said he was “deeply moved” by the response of the community and how many gathered to mourn the loss of his son and repeatedly asked the group to learn a lesson from the 17-year-old’s death.

“I understand they say he wasn’t wearing his seat belt at the time of his accident,” Patton’s father said. “Please, if you take away anything from tonight, please learn from this lesson to wear your seat belt. It could have saved Dylan’s life.”

Patton’s varsity golf coach, Doug Hopkins, was moved to tears as he spoke at the vigil, remembering the “kid that could always make you smile.”

“He was someone that just knew how to push your buttons,” Hopkins said. “He always had a smile on his face and I don’t know how but he always knew how to get to you but then he could make you laugh, even if you were upset with him and you couldn’t stay mad at him long.”

Hopkins told the Reflector this was Patton’s third year in golf and that he was one of only two to make it to the districts.  

“He was my best golfer based on that day,” he said. “He went to Pioneer last year. His grades, he did really well there. He had all As and Bs. He was a bright boy but it was a challenge to try to keep him focused at first, focused and working on his potential. Then you could tell he started to focus. That’s the best part about being a coach, when it clicks for them — when they're learning and coming into his own understanding and hone his skills. He was thriving in the classroom and field.” 

Hopkins said Patton was known by everyone for his contagious smile and being “extremely energetic.”

“You can't even go into a room without him smiling and then you couldn’t help but smile too,” he said. “We always had a little fun during practice. … He always gave it his best and he worked really hard. Dylan's a good boy. It's just so tragic.”

Plymouth varsity basketball coach, Derrick Shelenberger, agreed.

Shelenberger said Patton played basketball when he was younger but didn’t participate in the sport again until this past school year, when he played for the junior varsity team. Eventually Shelenberger used him in a few varsity games, realizing Patton’s natural knack for the sport. 

“He was going to start varsity for me this season,” Shelenberger said. “He played hard, worked hard for me. And he could score. I think he had five or six games hovering about 30 points. He played as a younger kind, but I’m not sure why he gave it up for a while or what made him start back up, but I’m sure glad he did. He was such a great kid to get to know.”

Shelenberger said he had a good work ethic too, coming to practice everyday, working “really hard.”

During the vigil, people walked onto the football field to view the makeshift memorial. Family members and many others in attendance cried throughout most of the evening as an area pastor offered his thoughts and then a few friends, the golf coach and Patton’s dad shared memories and words of encouragement. After that, they lit and released fly-away lanterns.

“He was a good kid. When he walked into the room, he had a smile on his face and you had to smile back,” Shelenberger said. “There’s just not enough good things I have to say about him. It’s a tough one for the community to deal with.”

The accident happened at 3:19 a.m., troopers said.

Patton was driving a gray 2009 Chevrolet Silverado west on Dininger Road when he ran a stop sign at the intersection of Ohio 61, causing a collision with a southbound black 2005 Ford Freestyle SUV being driven by April Pickesimer, 41, troopers said. The impact sent the SUV off the west side of the road and into a field, while the pickup truck flipped over, coming to a stop in a ditch on the west side of Ohio 61, troopers said.

Patton, who was not wearing a seat belt, was pronounced dead at the scene, troopers said.

His passenger and friend, Brody Brown, 16, of Shelby, was transported to OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital in Mansfield to be treated for injuries that were not considered life-threatening troopers said.

The other driver and her passenger, Earl Kirkwood, 51, of New Haven, also sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Pickesimer was flown to Grant Medical Center in Columbus, while Kirkwood was transported to OhioHealth Shelby, troopers said.

Alcohol is not considered a factor in the crash, which remains under investigation. Some of Patton’s friends believe he might have fallen asleep behind the wheel, though the accident report does not state this.

Friends sent tweets to Patton’s Twitter account after hearing of the accident.

“Never take your friends for granted,” Maggie Elyse Branham wrote. “I'm at a loss for words. Absolutely heartbroken. I'll never forget you. Rest easy buddy.”

“Words can't explain (how) much I will miss you,” Jacob Adams said on Twitter. “We were best friends since day 1. I love you forever. This one is going to be for patty #rip #4.”

“Love you bro,” wrote Seth Bailey. “You're gonna be missed by many.. keep an eye over good ole P-town for us. #rip”

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