By Kalea Hall
Dylan Crump graduated from college in heaven — a belief his mother, Mary, holds to heart just like the gold cross with Dylan’s thumbprint on it that hangs around her neck.
This is the first Mother’s Day without her eldest son, yet she still smiles.
The memories of her son’s 21 years still float through her mind, and his presence is still around her in the family-oriented decals he picked out for their home in Boardman, the countless dimes she randomly finds, the Mickey Mouse coasters he bought her a week before his death, and more.
“I have Dylan with me every day,” Mary said.
Dylan died just two months shy of his 22nd birthday in a car accident on Southeast River Road in Milton Township after his Honda Civic left the road and struck several trees on Saturday, July 20, 2013. The cause of the crash is still something Mary does not know.
Dylan went to Ohio Technical College in Cleveland for classic-car restoration. On March 28, he graduated with the rest of his classmates — an empty seat in his place and his mom accepting his diploma. A 1976 Ford Ranchero was designed with Dylan’s input, from a sketch he drew before his death, by his classmates and still sits on a showcase at the college. The white and orange Ranchero has an “OTC” emblem on its side and “DCC” — Dylan Crump Customs — on the back, just the way Dylan drew it.
“Dylan was very creative and always got the class to laugh,” said Matt O’Konowitz, director of OTC’s classic car restoration 18-month program.
The Ranchero is about 90 percent complete, and is far from what it used to be thanks to the 20 students in the class, O’Konowitz said.
“He literally ate and breathed cars,” said John Lopez, 24, of Virginia, Dylan’s friend and classmate. “His passion for cars was unbelievable.”
That passion and happiness is what drew him in to a life of cars. Grandpa Oliver Crump got him interested in antique cars at a young age. The Western Reserve High School graduate went to the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center his senior year for car restoration.
The kind-hearted, witty young man also joined the Army Reserve and went to Fort Jackson, N.C., the summer before his senior year for boot camp.
“I didn’t get to see him for 10 weeks,” Mary said.
He continued to report every weekend to Canton when he was in his senior year. He was supposed to go back after his graduation, but a leg infection stopped him, and maybe other reasons.
“He knew I was worried because of the war,” Mary said.
He went on to attend the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima — a three-hour venture from Boardman. He was there for a year and then the grandfather who taught him about classic cars became ill.
“He just knew something was going to happen, and he wanted to take care of him — and he did,” Mary said.
When Grandpa Crump died in 2011, Dylan reinforced his grandpa’s Model-T Ford to carry his casket. Just two years later, the same Model-T would carry Dylan’s casket.
Dylan transferred to OTC after his grandfather’s death because of a program he felt fit him better and to be closer to his family.
On July 20, Dylan spent the day at school, then went to his full-time job at Summit Racing and later to measure shocks on his friend’s truck. He went to grab a bite to eat when the accident occurred.
To this day, Mary doesn’t know if her son swerved to miss a deer, fell asleep at the wheel or if something went wrong with the car — a mystery she says frustrates her.
“He just made his first car payment on that Honda Civic three days before he died in it,” Mary said.
When two sheriff’s deputies came to her home at 4 a.m., she just knew. She called the coroner to find out where her son was, but there was no one by the name “Dylan Crump” there.
The coroner’s office asked, “Does your son have any markings?”
Mary remembered his tattoos — the same tattoos that she questioned her son for having.
“He said, “Mom, you never know, some day they might come in handy.”
And on that day she identified her son by his right arm tattoo: “Henneman,” his mother’s maiden name, above a star with an American flag and dog tags hanging with “Crump” below them; and his other Ford inspired tattoo on his right calf with pistons and the words, “The Best Never Rest.”
Through tears, Mary remembered the day any mother dreads, but she realizes her son has still succeeded and his legacy of car loving continues.
“I have 21 years of joy that I remember and think of them every day,” Mary said.
She tells her son, Eddie Crump, now 21, to remember the funny moments with Dylan whenever he feels sad.
Mary and her family will never forget March 28 — the day she saw first-hand the impact her son had on his classmates with his “contagious enthusiasm for the restoration field.”
“He knew he was working for a reason — happiness,” Lopez said. “He was just always happy.”