A crash in Friend on Thursday claimed the life of an 11-year-old boy and his 53-year-old caretaker, the Nebraska State Patrol says.
Patrol spokesman Cody Thomas said the Friend Police Department responded to a pickup-pedestrian crash at 416 Page St. at about 8:50 a.m. Thursday.
A pickup heading north had crossed into the southbound lane and struck Isaac Speece of Friend and Crystal Gerdes of Milford, who was walking southbound on Page Street.
The boy was in a wheelchair, Thomas said.
He said Isaac was taken to Friend Hospital, where he died. Gerdes died at the scene.
The driver of the pickup, 76-year-old Thomas Schiffern of Friend was not injured in the crash, which remains under investigation.
Gerdes cared for Speece both at home and as a paraeducator at Friend Public Schools. Principal Liz Stutzman said the pair were inseparable, and Gerdes was a caring, patient advocate for Speece and all students.
"She was a great member of our team, and she will definitely be missed," Stutzman said.
Speece, a special needs student, was well-liked and cared for by his fifth grade class, Stutzman said. She said his smile and laugh were unforgettable, and he helped others to smile as well.
Speece was normally in his wheelchair, Stutzman said, but began walking more with the help of a walker his third grade year. Watching him walk around the school and seeing his joy as he moved through the halls was remarkable, she added.
The loss is particularly hard, Stutzman said, because the school and community is so tightly knit.
Amy Hottovy, the school's counselor, said she will always remember seeing Speece and Gerdes "cruising" the halls together. Recently, she said, Speece became more vocal, always wanting to interact with teachers and students around the school. Hottovy said those interactions made Gerdes happy, too.
"Crystal was always so proud of him and what he could do," she said.
Hottovy said Gerdes went above and beyond as a caretaker, not only helping Speece with his basic needs, but also pushing him as a student. When remote learning began in Friend, she said, Gerdes continued to go the extra mile, helping him connect with teachers and classmates.
Now, in the place of the joy that the pair brought, there will be a hole in the community, Hottovy said. The loss will be particularly tough to navigate during the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's so hard," she said, "because you just want to see the kids and hug them."
Instead, Hottovy said, the school was to host a Zoom meeting for fifth graders on Friday evening. Students will be allowed into the school on Monday to process the news with each other and with counselors.
Reporter Lori Pilger contributed to this report.
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