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A community mourns, remembers and loves
Grieving the loss of a Basalt teenager
Memorial tree
Trees were planted at Basalt High School on Monday in memory of Tyler Ribich and Anna Cunningham. Pictured is Tyler’s tree, which is bedecked with notes of affection and reflection, and is located outside the athletic wing. - photo by Katie Hankinson

It is an overcast Monday afternoon on May 6, as Basalt High School lets out of school for the day. The track and field team, dressed for practice that afternoon, gathers outside the athletic wing with some of their fellow students. Students exchange conversation with one another after a day of classes. Some share pictures on their phones and smile. Several laugh here and there. A few share a hug. Two trees in planters are nearby, ready to return to the earth. The students slowly circle up around the trees. 

“We’re here to remember Tyler and Anna,” Coach Allyson Decatur says after a moment of pause. She begins by reading “The Dash,” a poem by Linda Ellis. 

I read of a man who stood to speak 

At the funeral of a friend. 

He referred to the dates on her tombstone 

From the beginning to the end. 

He noted that first came the date of her birth 

And spoke of the following date with tears, 

But he said what mattered most of all 

Was the dash between those years. 

Just three days earlier, on May 3, BHS junior Tyler Ribich passed away from injuries sustained in a fatal car accident in Missouri Heights (please see related story, page 4). Tyler, 16, was preceded in death by fellow BHS junior, Anna Cunningham, also 16 years old, who succumbed in February after a brave fight with cancer. 

To lose two BHS classmates in such a short period of time is devastating, especially for a community as close as Basalt. With the mourning of yet another young community member has also come the start of reflection and respect for the life that Tyler Ribich led.

Tyler is described by his friends and family as creative, talented and, most importantly, kind. He had a love for life he wanted to share with others through music and trying to make others laugh whenever he could. Most recently, Tyler was elected student body president; he also played Jack Ryan in this year’s spring musical, “High School Musical.”

He was involved with the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program, as a “dedicated DJ for over four years during his elementary and middle school years,” according to an AZYEP Facebook post. Tyler was an active member of the Basalt band and choir, and known to write raps of his own.

For that dash represents all the time 

That she spent alive on earth 

And now only those who loved her 

Know what that little line is worth. 

“I understand that you may feel defeated,” one community member said during Monday’s brief tree planting service. “We as adults cannot believe the amount of tragedy you all have experienced in your lives so far. But we are not defeated. We’re here. Reach out to your parents, reach out to your friends. Know that you don’t have to do this on your own.”

Counseling services have been made available to students and their families in this time of grieving. A letter from BHS Principal Peter Mueller, notifying students and parents of the accident, offered resources through the school’s counselors (970-384-5959), Mind Springs Health (970-945-2583) and the Aspen Hope Center (970-925-5858). There was also a link provided which leads to a list of tips for students and parents as they process their grief. Those include: not setting a time limit to grieve and acknowledging when someone feels overwhelmed by grief as a sign of support.

One of Basalt’s more well-known safety efforts is Project Graduation, a post-graduation party featuring games, prizes and more for students to prevent vehicular driving accidents. With a $100 admission cover charge to help pay for the event, Basalt Boosters hosts Project Graduation each year to help keep kids safe. According to the Centers for Disease Control, car accidents are the leading cause of death of individuals aged 15 to 19, most of which occur on or around graduation night when celebrations are underway. Local businesses have donation jars out to help fundraise for Project Graduation as a preventive effort to keep students safe. 

And be less quick to anger 

And show appreciation more 

And love the people in our lives 

Like we've never loved before.

“We are at a loss for words. Our hearts are broken,” the Ribich family said in a prepared statement. “Tyler is the light of our lives and we love him more than we can ever express. We will carry him with us always. Thank you to this incredible community for the outpouring of love and support at the saddest and most difficult time. We will be forever grateful, just like we will be forever grateful for our Tyler ray of light.”

So when your eulogy is being read 

With your life's actions to rehash 

Would you be proud of the things they say 

About how you spent your dash? 

The tree planting service concludes with friends of Tyler’s playing three of his original raps. Students sit on the ground together, gathered around one phone while a girl cups her hand around the speaker, amplifying the sound in hopes everyone can hear over the wind. Occasionally, Tyler’s voice sings out a line that makes students laugh or nod their head to the lyrics. 

The music fades and everyone remains sitting silently for a moment longer. Slowly, students stand, hugging one another and wiping their eyes. Track athletes start their warm-up run. Other students walk back inside, arms around each other’s shoulders. The two newly planted trees blow slightly in the wind with new words of love tied to their branches.

Friends recall a life well lived

The following are recollections of Tyler Ribich that were shared this week by a few of the many lives he touched: 

“If AZYEP had a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Tyler would be in it,” said Elizabeth Wysong, Director of the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program. “He was very dedicated with the program and I always remember him as being so patient and kind, especially with other kids. When he started doing his own radio show, he wrote a rap for every show that was about what had taken place in the world since he was last on air. He took on bigger topics, like bullying and the environment. He was a very involved thinker in that way. He used to create artwork for our fundraisers and actually created our logo. It looks like him. He was funny. A talented comedian, who wanted to be in front of people and make them laugh. I never saw him down, he was always really positive.”

According to Steve Skinner, former general manager of KDNK: “Tyler set the bar high for the kids AND adults on KDNK. He made the most of his potential as a student in the Andy Zanca Youth Empowerment Program. He prepared original, hilarious content for his broadcasts. To hear this young man going full blast on an NPR member station was both unusual and highly entertaining. Our listeners loved hearing him and all the kids from AZYEP.”

“He was an amazing kid,” said Tyler’s friend, Joel Suarez. “I met him when he was in seventh grade and he never failed to impress. He was one of the kindest, most compassionate and empathetic people I’ve met, putting others before himself. He had so much potential for greatness, both academically and creatively.”

“I don’t even know the words to describe what a great kid Tyler was,” Nancy Cohen said. “I love Tyler like I love my own children. He was part of our family. We will miss him every day. I remember the smile and determination on his face as he tried water skiing at Lake Powell. And he liked rattlesnake soup.”

“Tyler was my brother’s best friend and like another brother to me,” according to Georgia Mitchell. “There are countless stories I could tell you that show his character, but I just want to describe him and his legacy. Tyler is the funniest person I know, not a day went by where he wasn't making jokes and spreading laughter throughout his friends. Tyler was going to be an actor. I knew since I met him in kindergarten when we were in the same class for the school musical. He was always was the best at public speaking and was the center of all of the musicals in high school. 

“Tyler was funny and joyful and kind and someone I cannot imagine my childhood without. I don't know how I will be able to move on without him. I cannot imagine my senior year without him, he was going to be a head student. I cannot imagine graduating without him. I cannot imagine him not being able to pursue his acting career. I cannot imagine that seeing him Thursday night at my house, and hearing him record music with my brother will be the last interaction I will have with him. I left to study abroad last year in Thailand and before I left he wrote me the kindest letter. He told me he was so excited for me and ‘Basalt was going to be a lot sadder without me.’ I cannot imagine Basalt without Tyler,” Mitchell said.

Driver out on bond, awaits May 30 hearing

By Madeleine Osberger

RFWJ Editor

The 18-year-old driver in the May 3 fatal crash on Missouri Heights that took the life of Basalt High School junior Tyler Ribich was released this week on $4,000 bond. 

Jesse Grant Lloyd of Carbondale is charged with felony vehicular homicide, two counts of vehicular assault and the misdemeanors of driving under the influence and third-degree assault. Lloyd’s next court date is May 30 in Garfield County District Court, according to Lawson Wills, who appeared with Lloyd at the May 3 advisement; Wills said he isn’t certain if he’ll represent the accused in the future.

“It’s under discussion,” Wills said. “This is a very serious case.” He added that conditions of Lloyd’s release are “no drink, no drugs and no driving.”

Two of the four passengers in Friday’s accident were ejected from the vehicle, including the deceased and 19-year-old David Rothman. Also suffering serious injury was 18-year-old Henry Twitchell, according to the initial report by state police spokesman Cpl. Ivan Alvarado. He said neither of the men who were ejected was wearing a seatbelt. 

A 17-year-old who was also in the vehicle escaped serious injury, as did Lloyd, the driver of the 2015 Mercedes C-300. The rollover accident, believed to be alcohol-related, occurred on Fender Lane (Garfield County Road 102) at around 11:38 p.m.