By Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
A Northwestern High School graduate and Ball State University student died Sunday night after his car overturned along a flooded roadway, police reported.
Grant County Sheriff’s Deputy Danny Jones said 19-year-old Blake A. Taylor of Kokomo was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Jones said Taylor was heading to Ball State when his car hydroplaned on a flooded portion of Ind. 26, 2 miles east of Fairmount, at about 11 p.m. Sunday. The car flipped over in a ditch filled with 4 to 5 feet of water. The sheriff’s office estimates Taylor was in the “extremely cold” water for 10 to 12 minutes.
Two deputies and a Fairmount officer waded into the water, broke a window and tried to free Taylor with no success, Jones said. Deputies then used tow straps and their patrol trucks and pulled the vehicle from the water and were able to free the Kokomo man.
Jones said Taylor was transported by ambulance to Marion General Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Officials had been forced to close that area of Ind. 26 earlier Sunday because of high waters, said Harry Maginity, communications coordinator for the Indiana Department of Transportation’s Greenfield District.
By the time Taylor tried to drive through, though, the water had receded enough that it was no longer closed, he said. There was a yellow warning sign alerting motorists that water levels were still high.
“Cars, with caution, could make it through,” he said. “You had to drive with extreme caution.”
The sheriff’s department said it still was investigating Taylor’s crash.
The news of his death shocked students and staff members in Northwestern School Corp.
“When I heard it this morning, I was like, no way ... no way,” Northwestern High School Principal Al Remaly said.
Friends of the family quickly organized a prayer vigil at the Taylor home Monday night, so friends, relatives or classmates could talk about the tragedy and tell stories about the 19-year-old.
More than 50 people carrying lit candles and wrapped in blankets or bundled in coats, hats and gloves circled around a fire outside the home and reminisced.
They told stories of cookie dough fights, movie nights, vacations and baseball practices they will never forget.
A sister of Taylor’s girlfriend laughed as she told about their trip to Florida. She said Taylor was the only one with enough guts to stand up at the front of the raft during a white water rafting adventure. While he was standing there, he suddenly started acting like he was riding a bull.
“That was Blake, always pushing the envelope,” a friend said.
One of Taylor’s former teammates on Northwestern’s baseball team said Taylor played this practical joke where he would pretend to faint and would fall wherever he was standing. Sometimes that was into a group of his friends. Sometimes that was in the middle of the outfield during practice.
“He was a little bit of a character,” the friend said.
In between the laughs, people cried as they mourned the loss of a young man who was taken too soon.
Over and over friends and family said the same thing: “This shouldn’t have happened to him.”
His death hit the baseball team particularly hard, coach Mike Brazel said during school Monday.
“We were family,” he said. “That’s one of their brothers.”
Taylor was passionate about baseball.
Brazel described him as the consummate team player. He was the one offering to make the sacrifice bunt, so his teammates could score.
“He was never bigger than the team,” Brazel said.
Remaly said Taylor always had a smile on his face.
Brazel couldn’t get that smile out of his head Monday.
“I could see him sitting in my class.... I remember the exact seat, and I could envision that smart grin looking back at me,” the coach said.
Brazel said Taylor was always there to support his teammates and friends when they were down. They will miss him now that he’s gone, the coach said.
Brazel said he has to help his team now figure out how to cope with such a tragedy.
“It’s sad,” he said. “The kid was the kind you wanted to have. He was successful. He had his head screwed on straight. He was fun. He had been looking forward to college. It’s a travesty anytime you lose a young life. This is a hole you won’t be able to fill anytime soon.”