Family of 16-year-old killed in crash helps heal through service, fundraising
Tom Smart, Deseret News
LAYTON — Life for Courtney Kenyon after the death of her 16-year-old twin sister, Claire, can be summarized in two words.
"Empty," she said Tuesday. "Really, really empty — and lonely."
But despite the difficulty of that loss, she and her family are finding hope in trying to carry on by continuing the charity work that brought Claire Kenyon so much happiness. The two sisters started working with the local organization Anything for a Friend almost two years ago after one of their friends was diagnosed with cancer.
One month before Claire was killed in a crash on I-15 in Centerville, the sisters were able to deliver a "giving tree," made up of cash, gift cards and inspirational quotes to the family of a young girl with cancer.
"It was really touching for both of us to be able to go and see these families, just how much hope it brings them," Courtney said. "It was a really good moment to have with her and look back on, because I know she's passionate about it, so I know she's proud that we're raising money for this cause."
Claire was killed in a four-car accident on June 27. Michele Kenyon said she and her daughter had gone to a dentist appointment in Salt Lake City and then stopped for a birthday lunch in Bountiful before continuing home. Some debris in the road caused the mother and daughter to get into a minor accident, which prompted them to pull over to the right side of the freeway near Parrish Lane, police said.
Utah Highway Patrol investigators believe Claire was sitting in the car with the door open and without a seat belt while her mother was outside exchanging information. A northbound Land Rover driven by a 31-year-old West Jordan man hit a large piece of debris — a metal ramp about a foot high and 2 feet long, used primarily by people working on their cars — spun out of control and crashed into the pedestrians and parked vehicles.
The force of the collision caused Claire to be ejected from the vehicle. She was taken to a local hospital and was later pronounced dead.
"It's been a nightmare," Michele Kenyon said. "It's been a real nightmare for all of us. There's not a day that goes by that we don't miss her, that we don't think about her, but we're really trying to focus on healing and finding some peace and bonding as a threesome — Tom and Courtney and I — and trying to make something positive come out of this terrible tragedy."
She said Claire loved her puppy, the beach and — more than anything — dancing. At night, it wasn't uncommon for the sisters to dance around the kitchen to avoid washing dishes. "She'd knock glasses over on the counter constantly, because she would be twirling, legs flying and arms flying," Michele Kenyon recalled. "Dancing was in her heart and she just danced her way through life."
The teenager also had a way of making those around her feel good, her mother said. She looked for the positive in people and would seek out those in need of a friend or encouragement. A beautiful girl, it was the goodness of her heart that set her apart.
"In a world of bullying and meanness among teenagers, she always did everything she could to make people feel good about themselves," Michele Kenyon said. "She was an angel here on earth and now we know she's an angel walking up in heaven."
The accident happened on a Thursday. The weekend following the crash, the family's neighbors and friends lined their street with lights. They placed blue ribbons around the yard. More than 200 kids showed up at the Kenyons' Layton home.
"You could hear a pin drop other than the tears and we got in a big circle and all said prayers," Michele Kenyon said. "We were singing songs. We were absolutely touched by the support of the community. It's been absolutely amazing."
The third night, Michele Kenyon told the kids she wanted them to dance. She knew it's what Claire would have wanted.
"I try to live how Claire would want me to live — trying to be happy and hopeful and heal and focus on trying to do something positive."
Now the family, led by Courtney, is selling T-shirts, bracelets and car decals in honor of Claire. All of the proceeds go to Anything for a Friend. A visit to the charity's website showed a number of cash donations made in Claire's memory.
"I know Claire would love this and love for me to do it and I know she's just cheering me on," Courtney said of her fundraising efforts.
Friday, Courtney will accept the Angel of Davis County Award at the 2013 Miss Davis County Scholarship Pageant in Claire's honor. She said carrying on with the charity work she and her sister loved and shared has helped her, even as she misses her closest friend, with whom she did nearly everything.
"I firmly believe that good things can come from tragedies and with this setback we can still do good and there can still be help for other people," Courtney said. "Being able to forget about what's going on in my life and focusing on what I can do to help other people has just been amazing and it has really truly healed me the most."
She said the next Anything for a Friend fundraising event is a 5K run on Aug. 17 at Weber State University. A Team Claire has already been organized.
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