It was a truly horrific car crash. In its wake, the families of two teenagers would be left absolutely devastated. Indeed, the deaths of Ethan Richman and Lea Byers – aged just 18 and 19, respectively – would move everyone in their community. But Ethan’s mom would make one particularly heartbreaking request of those who remembered them.
Ethan and Lea were a young couple with their whole lives ahead of them. They studied together, spent their spare time together and enjoyed a relationship which seemed loving, caring and happy. Lea was the love of Ethan’s life.
However, a horrific car crash just days before the couple were set to celebrate their second anniversary spelled the end of their blossoming romance. Hope was replaced with tragedy.
Ethan had been born in nearby Anderson and grew up to be a high school football player. When Ethan wasn’t on the field, he loved joking around and making other people happy.
Lea, meanwhile, was a member of a United Methodist Church near her home in Greenwood. Furthermore, Ethan and Lea seemed perfect for each other and the pair were rarely seen apart.
Both had an altruistic calling and were studying to be nurse practitioners at Indiana University Kokomo. Lea specialized in neonatal care, treating newborn babies, while Ethan was training to become a nurse anesthetist.
On the evening of Monday April 3, 2017, Ethan and Lea were driving eastbound in a Mazda on U.S. 24. It was then that, out of nowhere, another driver smashed headfirst into them. Ethan couldn’t have had a moment to react.
Both Ethan and Lea died at the scene. Investigators established that a Toyota being driven on the wrong side of the road on the highway had crashed head-on into them. The Toyota was being driven by 86-year-old William Thorn, from Peru, who was also killed in the crash.
It was found that all involved had been wearing seat belts at the time of the incident. Unfortunately, such was the force of the smash, this wasn’t enough to save their lives. Meanwhile, there was no suggestion that drugs or alcohol had played any part in the accident.
Once the tragic news of their deaths had spread across their local communities, tributes began flooding in for the couple. Ethan’s younger sibling Lucas told The Herald Bulletin how Ethan had spent his short life trying to bring joy into the lives of others.
Indeed,Lucas said that Ethan didn’t worry about what others thought of him – so long as he was making people happy. Lucas went on to tell the newspaper how much he had admired and respected his older brother.
However, while Ethan was alive, Lucas didn’t know quite how deeply he had felt their connection. “[It was] not very often [that] he told me how much I meant to him, but when we got his wallet… the only photo was of me and him as kids,” Lucas told The Herald Bulletin.
Ethan enjoyed a close relationship with his other siblings, as well. They include Jacob, 12, who also paid tribute to his older brother, recalling his sibling’s offbeat sense of humor.
His aunt, Angie Bingaman, meanwhile remembered Ethan for his hugs. “That’s going to be what I miss the most,” she told The Herald Bulletin, quipping that the last one she had received had been so strong that she thought her back would break.
Meanwhile, Kokomo student Conny Dordoni spoke of her memories of Ethan, praising his kindness. “He was a brother to people who needed a brother,” he told The Herald Bulletin. “For me, he was a father.” However, his friends said Ethan had one feature which stood out above all else: his smile.
Breanna McGauhey told The Herald Bulletin, “He just had a way of making people smile. He was obnoxiously positive.” Another schooolmate, Addison Morgan described Ethan as an enthusiastic cook with a passion for jokes.
Lea’s parents touchingly agreed with Ethan’s family that the two should be buried together. They placed a portion of their daughter’s ashes under Ethan’s arm when he was placed in the ground. “She’s tucked up under his arm where she always was when they were together,” Ethan’s mother said. “Literally, you never saw one without the other.”
However, the Richmans had one last heartbreaking request when their son was laid to rest. “More than I want to hear, ‘I’m sorry,’ I want to hear the memories of Ethan,” she said. “Tell me how he made you laugh. Tell me a funny story about him.”
One commenter noted how powerfully the stories about Ethan had captured his life. Responding to his obituary, Marty Goodpaster wrote, “My heart is breaking for the entire Richman family and even though I never had the honor of knowing Ethan, I feel like I do because of the wonderful stories you have shared.”
When family and friends gathered at Rozelle-Johnson Funeral Service to pay their final respects, it seems like she wasn’t disappointed. Ethan was clearly loved by many, each of whom recorded their own memories of the young man.