Monday, April 29, 2013

In Memoriam

Gentle Reader,

It's funny sometimes, the things that we remember.

I would have been about four years old.  I was riding in the back of my parents' old Duster, as I often did, wishing I could see out the window.  Sometimes my folks would stack lawn furniture cushions for me on the seat so that I didn't miss anything as we drove by, but maybe they didn't think to do so on this particular day.  On this day, though, I was especially wishing that I could see better.  It was a bright spring day that felt like summer, and we were going to the place where the young people had died.

I didn't understand the entire story, but I had picked up enough from overheard bits of conversation.  Two kids from the neighborhood had gone out partying one night and somehow driven themselves into the reservoir, where they died.  At the time, I didn't see how that could happen.  If the car went into the water, why couldn't they just open the doors and get out?  It was a long time before I understood that sometimes things aren't that simple.

I remember my dad driving around for a bit.  Maybe he wasn't sure how to get there, initially.  Soon though we were parked at the top of the dam, looking down into the artificial lake.  I've been back there since and the dam isn't very high at all, but it looked a lot higher at the time.  My mom was telling my dad not to get so close to the edge, and he was ignoring her.  But I can understand why she felt uneasy, considering what had happened there.

I always remembered this event, even though I didn't know the names of the victims or the precise date or any of the other major details.  I never heard about the story from anyone else.  A few times I asked other people my age if they remembered hearing about a young couple who died at the lake, but no one did.  They were probably just too young to remember.  Besides, they had probably never gone to the actual site and listened to their parents argue over it, the way I had.

Just recently there was a story in our local news about prom season and the Post-Prom Party tradition that all of our local schools are a part of.  The reporter explained how the tradition originated in 1984, when two young people died at Papio Dam Site 20 after leaving the Millard South High prom.  There was a lot of construction around the dam site at that time.  Engineers were building what would eventually become Wehrspann Lake and the Chalco Hills Recreation Area.  There was a gravel road with no street lights, and a "Road Closed, Bridge Out" sign that was apparently missed.  The young people plummeted off of a cliff and found themseles upside down in the water.  They didn't have a chance.

The submerged vehicle wasn't discovered for nearly a month.  Over the intervening weeks the community engaged in a massive search effort which ultimately spanned several states.  Flyers and buttons were produced and passed around the region.  Theories about the couple running off together were dismissed.  Rather, the two were thought most likely kidnapped.

Local schools started hosting Post-Prom events the year following.  It was eventually proven that the young people were not intoxicated at the time of the accident, but if there had been a safe afterparty for them to go to, perhaps the tragedy would have been avoided.

It sounds like an urban legend, a ghost story, but it's not.  I don't recall anyone making a campfire tale out of this one.  What's sad to me is that more people don't remember.  I know a lot of people around my age who graduated from the Millard area schools and none of them recalled the story when asked.  This seems wrong to me.

Beth Ann Brooks would be around 46 years old today.  Brian McEwen would be almost 50.  I understand that their families still live in the area.  I was only a little kid back then but I remember.  I remember looking out the window of our old Duster and squinting against the sun as my parents argued without quite meaning it.  I remember looking down at the clear blue water and wondering what it was like to drown.  This is what I remember, but I wish that everyone around here remembered something about this story.  The least we can do for those who die is to remember them.

Beth Ann Brooks, age 17 in 1984 | Brian McEwen, age 20 in 1984

Archived news story about the disappearance
Archived news story about the discovery
About the Millard Schools Post-Prom

Ever Yours,


  1. It's tragedies like these that are so heartbreaking.

    I worked in an insurance office after I graduated college. A fairly frequent customer of ours had just gotten married and had decided to invest in life insurance. While the husband finalized the papers, the wife went for a walk on the beach.

    She was never seen again. They are still unsure whether it was suicide or that she stepped in for a quick dip and was pulled into the undercurrent, but even her bank and possessions remain completely untouched after decades.

    I just kind of imagine what it's like to be the husband and to never know for certain what transpired that day.

    1. Arcs: Thank you for your comment and for sharing that amazing anecdote! Eerie, sad, just wow. I worked in insurance myself until these past few months and you hear some shocking stories along the way, but I can't top yours.

      A friend and I were just talking about the story described in my post. One thing we agreed on was that at least these families know what became of their loved ones. Never finding out, wondering if it was accident or intent, all of the complex feelings that would go along with that--it's just unimaginable. But maybe someday they'll find out what happened to the beach-walking lady. I sincerely hope so!


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