Ex-Cat Leroy Byrd, his wife reflect on life of 17-year-old son who died in crash

jmadden@herald-leader.comFebruary 1, 2014 

As they sat on the sofa in the family room of their home on Anniston Drive on Saturday, Leroy and Wanda Byrd found solace in talking about their son, Jalen Byrd.

Byrd, 17, died Jan. 19 when his Nissan Altima hit a tree on Royster Road near the Interstate 64 overpass in eastern Fayette County.

"It's not always easy," said Leroy Byrd, a former University of Kentucky basketball player. "We had an angel. We were raising an angel, and we thank God for him. We're not having a pity party — we're having a celebration."

The day of the wreck started out as a normal Sunday.

"We got up to get ready for church," Wanda Byrd said. "We all usually ride together, but Jalen had to drive that day."

After church, Jalen needed to pick up his wallet that he'd left at a friend's house the night before, she said. He was on his way from there to work at Kroger on Bryan Station Road when the accident occurred. Jalen was supposed to be there at 1:30 p.m. According to the Lexington police collision report, Jalen lost control of the car, causing it to slide down the street, and the car hit two fences before the passenger's side slammed into the tree. Police said speed likely contributed to the crash; the speed limit in the area is 35 mph.

Leroy Byrd said a call came from Kroger saying that Jalen hadn't made it to work.

"Usually I would call him and tell him, 'Man, get your butt to work,'" he said. "But I thought he was at Kroger working and they just hadn't seen him ... I saw his car go by on a flatbed tow truck, and I panicked. I knew it was his car. I knew he was hurt. We just wanted to find out where he was at ... Then the coroner came to the house and told us."

Wanda said doctors at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital had tried for about an hour to resuscitate Jalen.

Jalen received the car as a gift from his mother in July. On Dec. 16, the family celebrated Jalen's 17th birthday at Logan's Roadhouse. "All he wanted was money," his father said. "He bought an Xbox."

Jalen was a junior at Sayre High School in downtown Lexington and played on the school's lacrosse and basketball teams, his parents said. The school's Facebook page has pictures of the boys' basketball team wearing jerseys with "BYRD" on the back. The girls wore the letter "J" to represent Jalen's nickname.

He was a member of First Baptist Church Bracktown, and served as an usher. Byrd was also a member of BMW Academy, an organization that focuses on student achievement and academic success.

Jalen was funny, loved to draw and hang out with his brothers, Jeremy, 25, and Jarvis, 11. His room's blue walls are covered with self-portraits and cartoon characters.

"He would get in trouble at school for doodling on his work," Jalen's father said. "Drawing was truly his first passion."

Jalen was beginning to consider college and was looking for schools with strong art programs. He also thought about joining the military because of his interest in weapons and the Navy Seals.

Leroy and Wanda Byrd said their faith keeps them strong as they cope with their son's death.

"There is a hole in all of our hearts," Leroy said. "Nothing can express the pain we have. We know that we could not go through this without God."

They said they miss him jumping up the stairs, his smile, attending the family trips and the noise he would make when he played video games. But they said they keep Jalen with them daily. "I carry his license in my wallet," Leroy said. "I'll do that for the rest of my life."

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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