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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Laura Kooyman poses for a photo with the toy car she and her son found on their front doorstep, in Lehi on Thursday, July 11, 2013. The car was left in memory of Carson Dean Cheney, a boy who was killed last year when a tombstone fell on him.
As we were coming up on the year mark of Carson’s accident, we wanted to do something to celebrate his life. And one thing about Carson is that he always had a car in his hand. … You could find them in his pockets or he’d always be carrying one around. —Zac Cheney

LEHI — Hundreds of Matchbox cars were recently scattered as gifts to children all across the world to honor the first anniversary of the tragic death of a 4-year-old Lehi boy.

Carson Dean Cheney died July 5, 2012, when a tombstone toppled on top of him at Glenwood Cemetery in Park City during a family photo shoot. Just before his death, Carson clenched a blue Matchbox car with white stripes in his hand.

“As we were coming up on the year mark of Carson’s accident, we wanted to do something to celebrate his life,” said Zac Cheney, Carson's father. “And one thing about Carson is that he always had a car in his hand. … You could find them in his pockets or he’d always be carrying one around.”

Cheney said his wife, Hilary, held tight the blue and white-striped Hot Wheels car after a family friend found it in the cemetery, where it had been lost when Carson was rushed to the hospital with his parents.

Cheney said Hilary came up with the idea a few months ago to ask friends and family members to celebrate Carson’s life on July 5 by buying Matchbox cars, attaching notes with links to Carson’s story on a Facebook page, and leaving the cars in places where children may find them.

The tags read: “Please enjoy this gift in honor of Carson Cheney, July 31, 2007 to July 5, 2012. Please visit Carson’s Facebook page to upload a photo of where you found a car and to see where others have been found. Thank you for helping us celebrate Carson’s life by spreading joy to others.”

While the Matchbox cars were initially distributed around town by neighbors and family members, Carson’s memory has spread across the world, even as far as England and Guatemala, Cheney said.

“We’re really amazed at the response that we got from all of our friends, people all around the country, and even people traveling to different parts of the world that were saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to take some cars with us and leave them there in honor of Carson,” he said.

“It’s just something that you know would bring a smile to Carson’s face, and we just wanted to help spread that joy to other kids that might find those cars.”

Friends, family and even strangers continue to post pictures of their children who found the Matchbox cars, along with messages about Carson’s memory and his family on the Carson Courage page, www.facebook.com/CarsonDeanCheney.

Cheney said he didn’t know exactly how many Matchbox cars have now been scattered, but since almost 300 people follow the Carson Courage Facebook page, at least hundreds, if not thousands, of Matchbox cars are finding their way into children’s hands and being passed to other families as Carson’s story spreads.

“You see the best in people around you because they come out and want to show their love and respect,” Cheney said. “That’s been really humbling. Just so many people have reached out in some way or another, even if it was just a simple, kind comment that they said.”

Laura Kooyman, a mother of five from Lehi, found one of the Matchbox cars on her doorstep Wednesday morning. She said she was brought to tears as she followed the link to the Carson Courage Facebook page and remembered his tragic story.

“I thought it was just a really sweet idea and a great way to remember him,” Kooyman said. “It’s a good way to help (his family) heal, and I hope that it just helps them remember what kind of child he was and have positive feelings instead of negative feelings.”

She said finding the car on her doorstep and remembering Carson’s story made her feel gratitude for her family, empathy for the Cheney family, and appreciation for the family’s efforts to spread Carson’s story in such a positive light, with a focus on the theme of “courage.”

“I think the message of courage is a perfect message for what they’re trying to do,” Kooyman said. “To have the courage to move on, and the courage to love that little boy even more now that he’s gone.”

Finding the little car on her doorstep also moved Kooyman to celebrate Carson's life by buying and scattering more Matchbox cars.

“There’s just so much negative going on in the world, and it’s nice to have something positive come out of the tragedy that happened to that family,” she said.

Cheney said, in response to the tragic accident, he and his family continue to work with lawyers on a wrongful-death lawsuit filed July 2 against the cemetery association. The family is suing Glenwood Cemetery Association for negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

They argue that the cemetery failed to provide and maintain a safe premises and keep the public away from — and warned of — potential hazards. The lawsuit states that this negligence led to Carson's death and severe emotional distress for his surviving family.

The headstone Carson touched belonged to a man who died in 1889. Carson's family states in the lawsuit that Carson only lightly touched the tombstone before it toppled over.

The family is seeking general damages, "special or economic damages" that at least amount to their funeral and burial expenses, court costs and other punitive damages.

"This really has nothing to do with money, and this has nothing to do with greed or anger, even," Cheney said. "It’s just simply to make a statement that there are a lot of tombstones in cemeteries that are aging. This is a 100-plus-year-old tombstone that tipped over at the touch of a child's hand. … We want to send a message that there should be better safety measures in place, and we want to see something done about that."

Contributing: Emiley Morgan

Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com