Kaeden Hernandez was the kind of kid you want to live down the block.
In the summer, he earned money for clothes and gas by mowing neighbors’ lawns, said his parents, Michael and Brenda Hernandez. Older neighbors who needed help moving heavy boxes and furniture knew they could call on the 6-foot-1, 280-pound Lee’s Summit West High School senior.
In the winter he shoveled their snow for free.
Hernandez, 18, and Zachary M. Meyer, 18, who went to Lee’s Summit North High School, died in an automobile accident Saturday in Kansas City, police said. A third accident victim was in critical condition in a hospital. The accident is still under investigation. Police said the vehicle was traveling south on Prospect Avenue at a high speed when it left the road and hit a tree.
Hernandez’s parents said they have a lot of questions that may go unanswered. They did not know the other young men in the car with their son, or their families. The vehicle belonged to Hernandez, but he was a passenger at the time of the accident and was wearing a seat belt, his mother said. He’d gone to a basketball game and never returned home.
Early that morning the family missed him, because he’d never missed his curfew of 11:30 p.m. His father drove by a friend’s house where he thought Hernandez might be, but the car wasn’t there. They called Lee’s Summit police to report him missing. Soon after police came to their home to take that report, they returned to tell his parents of the accident.
Meyer’s family could not be reached.
Hernandez leaves two sisters, Kaeleigh, 21, and Gillian, 10; a brother, Gavin, 12; grandparents; and other extended family.
Brenda Hernandez said the siblings were close, with Gavin and Kaeden dreaming of opening a gym together in Lee’s Summit after finishing college. His little sister would cuddle with him.
Kaeden Hernandez planned to attend college first at Metropolitan Community College at Longview before transferring to Kansas State University.
Kaeden was an athlete who played football his first three years at Lee’s Summit West and was considering becoming a personal trainer after college. He also was a talented artist and had considered architecture as another career choice, Brenda Hernandez said.
He was working part-time at Waterway car wash in Leawood, where he’d frequently get to see exotic cars. His father said he’d come home exclaiming, “Oh my gosh: I got to look inside a Tesla.”
Or he’d meet a Chiefs player at the car wash. He was a devoted football fan, but from the age of around 8 he was a Colts fan living in Chiefs country.
“We have no clue where that started; we’re Chiefs fans,” Michael Hernandez said.
His father said Kaeden had friends all over the area, many through social media.
“He didn’t know a stranger,” Michael Hernandez said.
The family said many of his friends had come to their home or sent them messages.
Brenda Hernandez said in their family, they require the older children to earn money for clothes and spending. Kaeden Hernandez was generous with his money, helping out friends to point that sometimes he didn’t have money for himself.
His friends told his parents Kaeden was very supportive of his peers, listening to problems and giving encouragement.
“He built them up and gave them wise words,” she said.
The family attends Evangel Assembly of God, and Kaeden was devout Christian.
“We know, we know, we know he’s in heaven forever,” Brenda Hernandez said.
Michael Hernandez said the family started a tradition three years ago going to the Emmanuel’s Community Center to serve meals to homeless people. After the first time, his father asked Kaeden if he wanted to continue. His reply came quickly.
“That was what was in his heart,” Michael Hernandez said. “ ‘Absolutely yes.’ ”