[Photo courtesy of Spanish Valley Mortuary]

Authorities in San Juan County say that alcohol and excessive speed were contributing factors in a fatal March 5 accident that claimed the lives of two local students, and left three others with serious injuries.

Grand County High School students Taylor Bryant, 14, and Connor Denney, 16, were killed when the 2003 Subaru Impreza they were traveling in rolled over several times on the La Sal Mountain Loop Road just south of Ken’s Lake, ejecting both of them.

A third student, 17-year-old Daniel McCrary, was also ejected from the vehicle; he was flown to an out-of-area hospital and remains in critical condition. Two other occupants of the vehicle – 17-year-old Gage Moore and 14-year-old Tierney DeMille – were not ejected from the vehicle, but they were flown to out-of-area hospitals in critical condition, the sheriff’s office reported.

The sheriff’s office believes that the accident occurred some time before 7:30 a.m. on March 5, following the Grand County High School junior prom on Saturday, March 4. One of the students’ family members said in a Facebook post that the vehicle was traveling more than 100 miles per hour when it took a sharp turn and rolled, but authorities have not confirmed that claim.

After it posted two brief statements about the accident on its Facebook page, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that all other details are still under investigation and will not be released at this time. As that investigation continues, San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws told the Moab Sun News that his office has not yet filed any charges in connection with the incident.

“It’s a pretty delicate and pretty sensitive situation, and so we’re waiting to have all of our ducks in a row about what to do and who would be the subject of any charges or anything like that,” Laws said on Wednesday, March 8. “We want to be sure that the investigation has the opportunity to flesh out the facts. We want the facts – not the rumors.”

Utah Department of Public Safety Sgt. Todd Royce said that the State Bureau of Investigation is conducting a trace investigation to help the sheriff’s office determine the sequence of events in the hours leading up to the accident. Among other things, state investigators will try to figure out how the underage students got hold of any alcoholic beverages.

“We look back to see where that alcohol was obtained from and try to get the bigger picture,” Royce said.

News of the accident spread quickly on social media, drawing an outpouring of support throughout the community for the students’ families, as well as their peers at the high school and Grand County Middle School, where Tierney is a student.

Schools offer counseling for students

The Grand County School District said in a statement that it’s doing its best to ensure that its students have the time to celebrate the lives of their peers, while also helping them to move on with their own lives.

Grand County School District Superintendent Scott Crane said that school officials held an assembly on Monday, March 6, to speak with students about the accident, and to let them know that help is available.

The school district’s counselors, as well as counselors from Four Corners Community Behavioral Health, have been meeting with students at both schools, and additional counseling services are available at Helen M. Knight Elementary. Crane said that the district will continue to provide counseling services for as long as students and others need them – most likely for the remainder of the current school year.

“You have to be able to meet the individual grieving needs of the students, because they all grieve in different ways and at different times,” Crane said. “It’s helping to find out what that pattern is and what they need, and then providing it.”

Ultimately, he said, the collective grieving process is not confined to the schools or the district.

“It affects the whole community, and the community needs to stand together … because the grieving process in a small community is so interactive and so (interpersonal) that we all need to help each other with this process,” he said.

Friends remember Taylor, Connor

Chris Bolos, whose daughter A.J. considered Taylor to be her best friend, is already seeing that greater level of involvement and community-wide support for students and others affected by the tragedy.

“It’s just such a loss for our community, and I’m just so glad we’re a strong community and people are coming together,” he said.

Bolos said that he and his daughter got to know Taylor after A.J. made the move from Moab Charter School to Grand County Middle School, where she befriended her almost immediately. From the outset, he said, Taylor stood out to him because she was at an age when many of her peers often ditch their old friends in favor of the so-called “cool kids.”

“Usually, kids (that age) are kind of fickle and they change friends,” he said. “Taylor was never like that – she was your friend no matter what.”

A.J. Bolos has long worn a once-empty heart-shaped locket that she never takes off, and she remembers that Taylor always thought it was pretty. Last year, Taylor mentioned that A.J. had worn the empty locket for so long that she wanted to put something in it: She wrote a note that said, “love you forever 🙂 taylor bry,” and placed it inside the locket, where it remains.

“So quite literally she will always be in my heart,” A.J. said. “And that thought is so comforting because I love her so much and I’ll always have a piece of her.”

Taylor Jean Bryant was born on April 17, 2002, in Moab.

“She was always so full of life, always loved playing sports from a young age,” her family said in an obituary. “Volleyball was her passion, but she was also a fierce competitor on the basketball court, and was excited to start running track this year.”

She is survived by her parents, Bruce and Kim Bryant; her siblings, Jason Bryant, Jeremy (Jolene) Bryant; Joshua (Ernestine) Agrillo; Jordan (Tressa Renn) Bryant; and Trinity Bryant; her grandparents George and Carma Bryant, of Goshen, Utah, and Lois Jean Hurst, of Provo; three uncles; five aunts; two nephews; one niece; and many, many cousins.

She was preceded in death by her sister, Tiffany Marie Agrillo; and her grandfather, Vern A. Hurst.

Connor was the #4 player on the Grand County High School Red Devils baseball team, and on Tuesday, March 7, the team played its first game since he passed away. The team honored him during the game by leaving his center field position open for the top half of the first inning, and his batting position open for the bottom half.

“We will all be cheering for #4 today,” the high school said in a March 7 Facebook post.

Connor will also be remembered when the Red Devils head off to the Glenwood Springs Tournament in Colorado on Friday, March 10.

According to Conrad Yanito, Team Glenwood will pay tribute to Connor and the community of Moab by wearing ribbons on their uniforms. The rival players will also have a moment of silence before each of the Moab games on Friday night.

Grand County High School Athletic Director Ron Dolphin remembers Connor for his strong interest in sports.

“He was a good ball player,” Dolphin said. “He earned a starting position for us.”

Like many of his other teammates, Bruin Meador grew up playing baseball and “pretty much every other sport” with Connor, beginning in elementary school.

“Connor was close with all of us because we played with him ever since he was little,” he said.

Bruin remembers his teammate as a “very lovable kid” who was funny and mischievous, and had a “go-with-the-flow” attitude.

During one really close ball game with two outs and the bases loaded, Connor went up to bat.

Bruin’s father – coach Jared Meador – urged Connor not to swing, and to walk it out. But Connor had a rebellious streak – so, needless to say – he did not follow that advice: He swung, and turned the game around in their favor.

“He scored, and won the game for us,” Bruin said. “He said, ‘I know you told me not to swing, but I just had to.’”

Three others injured; authorities say that alcohol, excessive speed were factors

Services for Taylor Bryant will be held on Friday, March 13, with a viewing from 11 a.m to 1 p.m. at the LDS Stake Center, 701 Locust Lane. The services will begin at 1 p.m., and will be followed by burial at the cemetery at 2651 Spanish Valley Drive.

To help Taylor’s parents pay for additional memorial and burial costs, Kelli Haws has set up a GoFundMe account at: www.gofundme.com/sweettaylor. All donations will go directly to costs that have not already been covered.

A memorial service for Connor will be held on Tuesday, March 14, at 10:30 a.m. at the high school’s baseball field, and his full obituary will appear in next week’s edition of the Moab Sun News.