They’ve collected spare change from elementary students and sold $2 rubber wrist bands with the message “Ride Free.” They’ve held golf outings and pancake breakfasts and had T-shirts made in the same orange hue as Bryce’s beloved BMX bike.
A dollar at a time, the people who loved Bryce Buchholz and people who never knew him have raised $143,000 toward the construction of a skate and bike park in Lancaster in memory of the teenager who was killed by a drunken driver one year ago Friday.
“Yes, it was a tragic event, but the community has come together through this tragedy,” Bill Buchholz, Bryce’s father, said in an interview. “And it’s not our park. It’s the community’s park. We were given the opportunity to build it, but the community itself has helped us attain our dream.”
The volunteers who have spent countless hours fundraising and planning for the skate and bike park hope to open it this fall.
They have a location for the park, hired a Southern California company to design the series of stairs, rails and walls that will draw in skateboarders and bike riders, and worked with Lancaster officials to address questions of liability, supervision and security.
Those efforts continue with a fundraiser planned for Sunday that began as a memorial bike ride and grew into a full day of activities.
“It was really meant to be something to help the family and friends of Bryce get through this time,” said Anne Farmer, Bryce’s aunt. “As with everything we’ve done, it has begun as one small thing and snowballed into something awesome.”
The night he died, Bryce was riding home from downtown Lancaster with his friend, Ryan Neth.
At about 8:45 p.m., a driver heading southbound on Lake smashed into Bryce, sending him flying off his bike, and continued on without stopping.
A witness, Benny Kirkland, followed Michael C. Ettipio home, confronted him in his driveway and drove Ettipio back to the scene of the accident. Ettipio, then 23, was arrested and accused of driving with a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit.
Bryce’s death was wrenching for his classmates at Lancaster Middle School, where he was in the eighth grade, and the middle school has kept his locker empty for this school year.
Ettipio pleaded guilty last year to first-degree vehicular manslaughter. In the hours before the accident, Ettipio had been drinking at the ForestView Restaurant on Transit Road. He was sentenced to one to three years in prison.
By then, Bryce’s friends and family already had begun raising money for a skate and bike park in his honor.
They wanted to build a place where Bryce’s friends and other riders could go. There aren’t many options in Lancaster beside the central business district, where the stairs and planters in front of the Opera House and parking lots for Sav-A-Lot and the Rite Aid beckon – even as the merchants complain.
Jim Everett, the president of Performance Advantage Co., with offices in downtown Lancaster, said work on building a skate park hadn’t gone very far until the people who cared about Bryce got involved.
They set an ambitious fundraising goal of $200,000, and they’ve gotten almost three-fourths of the way there by selling wrist bands, T-shirts, raffle and dinner tickets and collecting money.
Several Lancaster elementary schools collected hundreds of dollars from their students and community groups continue to host fundraisers in Bryce’s honor, such as a Lancaster Educational and Alumni Foundation breakfast set for May 11.
The fund hasn’t received corporate donations or government aid, but volunteers hope to one day receive a larger gift. “What they have done in a year is remarkable,” Everett said. “This is grass-roots fundraising.”
Organizers worked with the town and village to select a location before settling on Keysa Park, a town park within the village limits. Playground equipment now located on the skate-park site will be relocated in Keysa Park, said Terrence McCracken, general crew chief for the town’s Department of Parks, Recreation & Forestry.
California Skateparks was hired to design the park and Bill Minadeo, a company vice president, came out to Lancaster to meet with volunteers, teen riders and town officials to discuss the project. “I’m honored to be involved,” he said. The custom concrete skate park will have stairs, a rail and a wall to grind on and jump from, with components that are easy enough for beginning riders to use and others that are challenging enough for more experienced skateboarders, bikers and in-line skaters, Minadeo said.
California Skateparks has produced three concept drawings, and will produce a final, detailed set of plans after getting feedback from the public on the three ideas. Organizers will build as much as they can in the first phase of the skate park, and they will continue to raise money to make the park even better in the years to come, Farmer said. “We’re not in it for the short haul,” she said.
The Town Board will have to approve the final design, and an agreement stating the organizers will pay for the construction of the park and then turn over ownership to the town will be signed, Lancaster Supervisor Dino Fudoli said.
The town’s insurance policy for its parks and athletic fields will cover the skate park. The park will be operated without town supervision, on a play-at-your-own-risk basis, Farmer said. It will be open from dawn to dusk without any lighting.
“It’s the best idea Lancaster ever had,” said Grant Ihrig, 12, a Depew Middle School student who was in-line skating near the future site of the skate park this week with his buddy Josh Gierlinger, 16, a BMX rider who attends Lancaster High School.
The volunteers would like to see the park open by Sept. 1, with construction taking about eight to 10 weeks. Fudoli said this timeline may be overly optimistic, but he said town officials will do everything they can to help.
As the park progresses, some of the legal matters surrounding Bryce’s death remain. The State Liquor Authority last October charged the owners of the ForestView with serving a “visibly intoxicated” person. The bar’s owners initially pleaded not guilty but in February accepted a $10,000 fine and a 10-day suspension of their liquor license to settle the charge, according to liquor authority records.
Bill and Linda Buchholz, Bryce’s parents, sued Ettipio and the owners of the ForestView, and those suits are pending.
Ettipio is eligible for release from prison on Sept. 12 and a parole hearing is scheduled for later this month to determine whether he will be released, according to the state Department of Corrections.
Bill and Linda Buchholz, who are divorced, say they don’t want to think about Ettipio as the anniversary approaches.
“It’s a difficult year and a difficult week,” Linda said. “It’s something no parent ever wants to go through.”
Sunday’s fundraiser started out as a memorial bike ride meant to help ease the family’s pain, for at least a few hours.
The event has grown to include a classic car cruise, live music, face painting and other activities for children. Organizers originally called Sunday’s event “Bryce’s Ride Home,” but changed it to “Ride for Bryce” because Bryce isn’t coming home, Bill Buchholz said.
The activities begin at 11 a.m. in the Bowen Road Grove, 3925 Bowen Road, Lancaster. Visit www.flyhighridefreebryce.com for more information.
One year after Bryce’s death, his buddy Ryan Neth still holds onto the bandana Bryce bought him just hours before he died. Linda Buchholz said she doesn’t know what she’ll do or where she’ll go on Friday.
Bill Buchholz plans to go to work, at the General Motors components plant in Lockport, where his co-workers will wear orange for Bryce.
Later that day, he plans to go to Lake Avenue, where he knows Bryce’s friends will show up, on skateboards and bikes, to remember their friend. “I do want to be there for the kids. I think that’s very important,” he said.