Community rallies with truck cruise for teen boys lost in EAC van crash

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Richie Gann leads the truck cruise in his son’s 1992 Dodge Ram Cummins Diesel pickup truck.

By Jon Johnson

PIMA/FORT THOMAS – There is no greater pain than that of losing a child, but the close-knit communities of Pima, Fort Thomas, Thatcher, and Duncan showed that parents are not alone in their grief and that the Gila Valley not only grieves with them but is there to help heal with them as well. 

That was the feeling Saturday afternoon when more than 100 trucks lined up in Pima and headed down U.S. Highway 70 to Meg’s Place in Fort Thomas in honor of the three young men who died the previous night when the Eastern Arizona College (EAC) van they were traveling in rolled while bringing them home from a school trip. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Mourners console each other after meeting up at Meg’s Place in Fort Thomas.

Mason Gann, 16, of Fort Thomas, Kade Nelson, 16, of Thatcher, and Emmett Darnell, 17, of Duncan, were deceased at the scene. The adult driver and four other high school students and one college student were taken to Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center for treatment of non-life threatening injuries. 

Mason’s father, Richie Gann, led the convoy in Mason’s 1992 Dodge Ram Cummins Diesel blue and white pickup truck while being escorted by Pima Police Chief Diane Cauthen. Another Pima Police officer and a Graham County Sheriff’s Office deputy helped hold up traffic on U.S. Highway 70 to allow the convoy to travel as a group from its starting point along the front of the Pima High School down Main Street and onto the highway.

A slight hiccup occurred along the way when one of the trucks rear-ended another truck when it came to a sudden stop. While the one truck was incapacitated, nobody was injured in the fender bender. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: The driver and occupants of this truck didn’t make it through the truck cruise.

Upon arrival at Meg’s Place, the group was welcomed with free hamburgers, fries, burros, drinks, ice cream and more as they congregated to hold each other and express their love for those lost.  

“I want to thank everybody who came and everybody for being such a good friend of Mason and for loving one another,” Richie Gann said. “With all this craziness in the world, it’s nice we can have all kinds of kids from different schools and different backgrounds come together to pay their respects.” 

Contributed Photo/Courtesy Sean Herbert: Trucks line up to begin the cruise in front of the Pima High School.

Richie Gann said it is the small-town togetherness that binds those in the communities together and what has kept him living in the Gila Valley. 

“People ask me all the time why I live out here and this is the reason,” he said. “My main work is in Phoenix or Tucson and they ask ‘why don’t you move over here?’ But I don’t think they would ever understand this and the bond that this community has.”

The truck cruise was initially thought up by Mason’s friend, Josh Whitaker, who had always planned to take a cruise with Mason but never got the chance due to their conflicting schedules. When it became apparent that the event was starting to gain traction, others in the community, including Blain Brown and Sean Herbert, lent a hand in helping to organize the cruise and, along with the owners of Meg’s Place in Fort Thomas, have a stopping place where the group could congregate and eat some free grub thanks to the various donors and the owners of Meg’s Place.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: From left, Meg’s Place co-owners Cathie Hawkins and Russ Norton take in the scene with co-organizer Blain Brown.

Holding back tears, co-owner Cathie Hawkins thanked those who helped organize the event and said they were glad to help out by opening their doors to those involved.  

“We’re just happy to have a place where people can come together,” Cathie Hawkins said. 

Brown said the truck cruise was the perfect way to honor Mason, Kade, and Emmett because of the local truck culture and how much the boys were into working on trucks. 

“We’re kind of out here in the country and there’s kind of a redneck movement with the first-generation turbo diesel trucks is a big thing and the kids can afford them now,” Brown said. “Mason was a huge advocate of that and he was one of the ones with the most pride of his truck. If you look at his Instagram page, you’ll see a white and blue first-generation Cummins dually and that was his pride and joy. And there’s a lot of kids who have that and are really into that movement and into that kind of stuff. In a way, Mason was a poster child for that stuff . . . That’s what these kids do. They work on these trucks and cruise them. It’s just a memorial to him because that is what he liked to do.” 

As the numerous trucks lined the parking lots of Meg’s Place and the adjoining Ft. Thomas High School and others sloshed around in the muddy puddles as the heavens themselves openly wept during the event, Richie Gann stood back and took in the scene. 

“Who would have thought a Pima kid who lives in Fort Thomas would get this kind of a turnout?”

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