On a rural stretch of road near Adna, a sign with the words “Always Loved, Never Forgotten” sits among candles and flowers, marking the spot where Tyler Shawn Gonzalez died last May.
In the living room of the home where the teen grew up, there is another memorial dedicated to Tyler filled with family photos and candles. The shrine is located right outside the door to Tyler’s bedroom, which has been left intact by his parents.
He is remembered by his family and friends for his infectious sense of humor, as a protective big brother, and for his love of chicken alfredo. When his father and stepmother talk about him, even about the positive memories, it’s difficult for them to not cry.
"We had to bury a 16-year-old kid," said Victoria Gregory, Tyler’s stepmother. "Parents should never have to bury their kids. It should be the other way around."
Authorities believe Tyler was killed after he wandered away from a party in the early hours of May 12 and somehow ended up lying on a rural stretch of Brockway Road near Adna, where he was hit by a car and killed. Detectives at the sheriff’s office eventually concluded that there was no foul play involved, and that his death had been an accident.
The two women who are accused of providing alcohol to the group of teens that night have been charged with several counts of reckless endangerment and for providing alcohol to minors.
While the police investigation released to the family, who provided the information to The Chronicle, sheds light on some of the events that led up to his death, it has left the Gonzalez family with more unanswered questions: What if they had not let Tyler go out that night? What if the two young women accused of providing alcohol to the teens would have told them ‘no’? And, finally, why did a teen, who was so scared of the dark he slept with a nightlight, wander away from the party, down a dark, rural street, and lay in the middle of the road?
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Julio Gonzalez, Tyler’s father. “It’s really hard to believe he was just lying in the road.”
The Last Night of Tyler’s Life: May 12, 2012
Tyler was hit by a car at the intersection of Brockway Road and Chilvers Road at about 2:30 a.m. on May 12. Police concluded he had apparently been lying in the middle of the rural, dark stretch of road, wearing dark-colored clothing, when a 2006 Lincoln Navigator rounded a slight curve and ran him over. The driver, a 50-year-old Onalaska woman, was not believed to be at fault for the collision.
Tyler’s autopsy showed that the teen had been alive at the time he was hit, and that his blood alcohol level was .17, a little more than twice the legal limit.
A three-month investigation into the incident revealed that prior to his death, Tyler had been partying with a group of teenagers in a shed located on 137 Brockway Road, a few hundred feet from where his body was found.
The Brockway address was home to Tyler Ketchum, an 18-year-old who lives on the property with his parents, according to court documents.
Shortly after midnight on May 12, Tyler and two friends arrived at the Ketchum’s house, according to the incident report. The group of seven teenagers were drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana in the shed for several hours that night, according to the police report.
When Tyler and his two friends arrived, Tyler was sober, and he began taking swigs from a bottle of whiskey that had been purchased for the group of teens prior to his arrival, according to the report. About an hour and a half later, Tyler and his two friends went back outside.
At that point, according to witness statements made to investigators, Tyler began stumbling around the property, unable to stand on his own. He puked several times, once on the side of his friend’s car, then again in a flower box in front of the house where Ketchum’s parents were sleeping.
Ketchum, concerned that his parents might wake up, guided Tyler away from the house, according to the incident report.
At that point, the two friends that brought Tyler to the party, left to go to Jack in the Box, leaving Tyler behind, because, as the driver later explained to police, “I didn’t want him to be puking in my car.”
After the car pulled out of the driveway and drove slowly down the road, Ketchum then walked Tyler partway to the road then, assuming he was going to get in the car, turned back to come back to the party, according to the incident report.
That was the last time anyone saw Tyler alive.
About half an hour later, Tyler was struck by the car.
Ketchum told The Chronicle while he definitely feels guilty, he did not feel he was responsible for Tyler Gonzalez’s death. He said he did not tell Tyler, or any of the other teens, to drink. They all chose to do it.
“One of my good friends is dead,” Ketchum said. “It has really impacted my life a lot. He died on the road where I live. I have to drive past where he died every single day.”
The parents of Tyler Ketchum told police they had no idea that Tyler Gonzalez, or any of the other teens, were on their property drinking.
Later that night, after Tyler Gonzalez had disappeared from the party, the group noticed the lights and sirens down the street, according to the transcripts of the interviews included in the police report. While it occurred to some of them that it could be for Tyler, they did not think anything bad had happened to him — at least nothing fatal. They just assumed he was caught by police while intoxicated. Afraid of getting in trouble, they shut down the party and went to sleep.
Anger. Regret. Frustration.
The last time his parents said they saw him was on Thursday evening, when Tyler left to spend the weekend at his friend’s house. It was not uncommon for Tyler to take off during the weekend and spend time with his friends.
While his stepmother admitted to police that she knew he occasionally drank alcohol, she and Tyler’s father did not know he was drinking the night of his death.
“If we would have known he was partying, he wouldn’t have been out,” she said.
There were a handful of other people with Tyler prior to his death, Julio said. Many of them were also breaking the law, and none of them are being held accountable for their actions.
Most don’t even have their stories straight, he added.
While the criminal investigation into the incident is currently complete, both the prosecutor’s and sheriff’s office said if there are more developments in this case, they will continue to look at it.
"Our inquiry into the matter is not over,” said Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer.
As the criminal case against the two women who allegedly provided the alcohol continues to move through the court system, the Gonzalez family, however, will remain stuck on May 12; the day their son died, alone, on a rural stretch of road.