Anthony Dunlap, a Grain Valley teenager who died Monday morning while driving his friends home from a party, was always the guy who took care of people, his older sister, Celeste, remembered Wednesday.
When Celeste Dunlap, 23, brought her son, Remington, home from the hospital, Anthony Dunlap fell in love with the child instantly and embraced being an uncle: watching “Scooby-Doo,” playing with toy cars, spending time together as a family.
“Him and I were the exact same: strong, brave, funny and smart-asses to a T,” Celeste Dunlap said. “He loved fiercely and cared about everybody, even strangers. He was always willing to help.”
The siblings shared a love for hot rod cars, and Anthony Dunlap was jealous of his older sister when she got her first Chevrolet Camaro. She allowed her brother to drive it across town, even letting him borrow it for prom.
The 19-year-old Grain Valley High School graduate had his own interests too. He loved to fish, said his mother, Terri Dunlap, and was happy to fish with friends or by himself. His father, also named Terry, recalled the time his son got in trouble with a conservation officer for fishing without a license. His son couldn’t stay away from the water.
Anthony Dunlap was also a talented woodworker, his family said, and was saving up money to further his skills.
He made a gun rack to hold a vintage World War II rifle. He welded the family name into steel. And he and his father had just built a bed out of wood for Celeste Dunlap. Father and son just needed to paint it.
“He lived by the golden rule,” Celeste said her father had recounted Wednesday.
Celeste Dunlap recalled a quick dash to the hospital early Monday, when police knocked on the Dunlaps’ door and woke her mother. At 4 a.m. that morning, Anthony Dunlap’s vehicle had crashed into a concrete sign support on Missouri 291 near Salisbury Road in Independence, overturned and caught fire. He had been driving his friends home from a party in Ray County.
At the hospital, Celeste Dunlap squeezed into a room with her parents, siblings, uncles and aunts and learned that her brother would not survive his injuries. Another passenger in the car, 17-year-old Michael Smith of Independence, also died from injuries related to the crash. Two other teenagers survived.
Police suspect that Anthony Dunlap may have fallen asleep or that early morning fog Monday played a role in the accident. His family knows it’s anyone’s guess what actually happened.
“He was being a good friend like he always did,” Celeste Dunlap said. “He was taking care of his friends.”
Anthony Dunlap left the house around 8 p.m., his older sister said, and according to his mother he checked in via text around 11 p.m. Terri Dunlap said she encouraged her son to start heading home, but he told her that he needed to be with his friends.
Anthony Dunlap was getting ready to start a traveling job the next day for a company based in Lee’s Summit and had wanted to spend more time with his pals, his mother said.
The Dunlaps didn’t learn until they read it in the news that their son and the three passengers in his car had been pulled over by Excelsior Springs police an hour before the crash.
Police had pulled the car over because the passengers had been yelling out the windows. The passengers admitted they had been drinking, but Anthony Dunlap cleared all sobriety tests. When no alcohol or alcoholic containers were found in the car, police let the teenagers continue on their way.
The Dunlaps aren’t sure why.
“That’s our question,” Terri Dunlap said. “My son did nothing wrong, but if they had held all of them then, they would all be OK today.”
The Dunlap family, including little brother Hudson, 2, will celebrate Anthony Dunlap’s life Saturday at Royer Funeral Home, 100 Royer Lane in Grain Valley. Visitation begins at 10 a.m., with services starting at 11 a.m. Celeste Dunlap has also set up an online GoFundMe account for friends and family to contribute to funeral expenses.
The family plans to bury Anthony Dunlap in the memorial garden.
“Anthony would want everyone to show up how they would be comfortable,” said Celeste Dunlap.
“And if they have any fast cars, arrive in that.”