The fire chief in Texas County, Missouri can tell you the deadliest bit of road in the county.
Highway 63 north of Cabool - at the Gardner Ford curves - claimed two more lives last week: 3-year-old Brylon Michael Ash’s “momma and daddy.”
Authorities say Brylon was harnessed properly into his car seat in the back of the family’s Dodge Avenger when the mid-sized sedan hydroplaned on the wet highway and hit another vehicle.
The toddler’s father and mother - Bryce Ash, 24, and Kalena Freitas, 23, both of Houston, Missouri - were killed, reported Ozark Radio News.
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Brylon survived thanks to his car seat, the local fire chief says.
“I post this with a heavy heart but with the hope that is saves another family maybe yours from experiencing such a terrible loss,” Cabool Fire Chief Brenten Honeycutt wrote in an emotional Facebook post on Aug. 15, the day of the crash.
“This stretch of road has claimed more innocent lives than any other in my county,”
Honeycutt posted a photo from the crash scene showing Brylon’s car seat, undisturbed, in the back seat.
“To make the response worse it involved the family of one of our long time local officers,” he wrote. “A small child did survive the accident because of the properly install car seat seen above. Unfortunately the lord called his momma and daddy Home.”
Ozark Radio News reported that Ash was southbound on the highway, about six miles north of Cabool, when the sedan slid and hit a northbound Ford Flex head-on.
Honeycutt wrote that it was raining heavily at the time.
According to the Springfield News-Leader, two occupants in the Ford Flex sustained moderate and serious injuries. The Missouri State Highway Patrol reported that everyone in the crash wore a seat belt, according to the newspaper.
Freitas died at the scene, while Ash died later at the hospital, the highway patrol reported.
They planned to get married next year, according to their obituaries in the Houston Herald.
They met as students at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, where he played baseball and she was a cheerleader. They got engaged in September 2016, her obituary says.
Freitas was a medical-surgical department receptionist at Texas County Memorial Hospital in Houston, where her fiance was taken after the crash.
Their son was also treated there for minor injuries, according to the radio station.
Two days after the accident a hospital colleague left a sorrowful farewell on Freitas’ Facebook page.
“Walking into work last night and knowing you weren’t gona be there, was very hard. There is sadness all over TCMH,” wrote Crystal Jones.
“You can feel it as soon as you walk thru the doors. I thought about you all night, missing your beautiful smile. I stood there looking at your name on your locker and my heart broke all over again.”
Ash, an avid sports lover who grew up in Joplin, worked at Russell Cellular in Houston and was attending Missouri State University in Springfield, according to his obituary.
The couple shared a love of animals and had two dogs and two cats.
“She enjoyed taking care of Brylon, reading, taking pictures and shopping,” says Freitas’ obituary. “But her greatest love was spending time with her family and friends.”
Tina Gerry-Callahan, who identified herself as Freitas’ aunt, posted the fire chief’s photos of the crash on her own Facebook page, writing, “this right here shows that life is entirely too short!!
“Now this boy has to grow up without his parents. He will be loved all the way around, no doubt about that, but he is going to be lost for a long time.”
In his Facebook post, Honeycutt, the fire chief, pleaded with people to “drive to road conditions and remember getting there faster sometimes prevents you from arriving at all.”
And, he added, “use child seats properly and trust you have the best Texas county has to offer coming to your aid.”
On July 30, Freitas posted photos of her smiling little son on Facebook, telling family and friends “this little boy is so excited to be starting preschool very soon!”