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May 26, 2022

Scotts Valley Mourns Death of SVHS Student

When Kira Lee Martin took to the microphone on the Scotts Valley High School football field to read Psalm 23 in memory of her nephew Carlton Keegan, who died in a fatal vehicle accident, she suggested the overcast conditions were appropriate.

More than 400 people braved the rain Saturday to mourn a high school senior described as a leader who stood up for the little guy.

“I thought I was cried out,” she said, tearing up. “I guess that’s not possible.”

The event, held on squishy grass between a running track pockmarked with footprints, at times felt like a somber Easter service and at others like a high school assembly.

Jane Perko, a teacher at Scotts Valley High School’s K Street Academy, said she was fortunate to get to teach Keegan for three years.

Due to smaller class sizes in the alternative education program, the students were a tight-knit bunch, she explained.

“We become our own unique community,” she said. “Carlton’s absence was felt deeply by all of us.”

After he died, on March 30, students turned to sketching, music and writing letters, she said, before reading one of those letters.

“Whenever I think of you, I think of a good man—no, a great man,” the student wrote. “You were like a big brother to all of us in K Street.”

Louie Walters, the school’s athletic director who coached Keegan on the Falcons’ football team this year, said Keegan was never one to be dismayed by inclement conditions.

“This is Carlton weather,” he said, adding—despite his good looks—Keegan wasn’t a “pretty boy” just in it for the glory. “It’s typical lineman weather.”

That morning, he revealed, he’d heard Keegan’s voice speaking to him.

“Let’s go boys,” Keegan’s voice cheered, as if rousing teammates for a game. “Let’s get dirty.”

Keegan was both a captain on the field and a captain in life, according to Walters.

He joked about how the teenager would show up to practice with no shoelaces or socks, and how he loved to chug pickle juice.

The football team is going to name an award after Keegan and hang his number—50—from the scoreboard, Walters announced. During the celebration of life, the scoreboard showed both home and away teams at 50 points, with no time left on the clock.

Mark Andrews, another K Street teacher, said Keegan was such a peacemaker he wishes his diplomatic magic could be harnessed to bring an end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Carlton had this way of being able to mediate and moderate,” he said. “He was the leader we leaned on in class.”

Andrews said, for a long time, he couldn’t think of what to say at the funeral.

But then, he said, he remembered a back-and-forth they’d had that was both profound and hilarious at the same time.

They were discussing cosmic matters like the Big Bang Theory and Expansion Theory, in the context of whether God was the force that initiated the scientific genesis. That’s when Keegan found a way to put forward his own cohesive philosophy with a comedic flourish.

“Does it really matter who the Big Banger was?” Keegan began rhetorically, continuing with, “Or—that the Big Banger was banging?”

It was an example of how gracefully Keegan could bridge divides between people of different backgrounds who might look at the world differently, Andrews said.

Last year, the two were walking across campus, when they came upon two kids bullying another student. Andrews was about to intervene, when Keegan stepped up.

“Mr. A,” he said. “I got this one.”

Keegan pulled the two kids aside and made them think about how mean they were being, and how serious the impact could be for the targeted student.

He sat the two bullies at one side of an outdoor table, and the victim on the other, then served up sweet impromptu restorative justice.

“He had this bloody ability to bring people together,” Andrews said. “It’s something we can all be proud of.”

One time, Keegan gave his own Jack in the Box order to a person asking for donations outside, Andrews said, adding she was so touched by the offering she stood up and gave him a hug.

As the blue sky began to appear, the teacher told the crowd to think of what it is about Keegan that resonates with them.

“Latch onto it right now,” he said, “because it can be so powerful.”

Friends Brock Siechen and Joey Duncan shared a less-adult side of the well-loved student.

Siechen said in elementary school Keegan would only wear shorts. Duncan said Keegan is responsible for getting him into dirt biking.

Siechen described a prank Keegan pulled while they were riding around in a Suburban SUV. Keegan put applesauce in his mouth and, when a biker passed, pretended to puke, he said, adding to him this was just “the funniest thing.”

The boys talked about trips to American River, in the Sacramento area, like when they got “jacked-up on Gatorade” and jumped off a bridge, and about getting caught in massive surf on their boogie boards.

“We love you brother,” Siechen said. “Long Live Carlton.”

“LLC,” said Duncan.

Keegan’s mom, Leanne, appeared on stage with family friend Abby Duncan, Joey’s mom.

“Losing Carlton for me is like losing a son,” Abby told the crowd. “But I find comfort in happy memories.”

Abby urged mourners to “chase your dreams, whatever they may be,” and said Keegan will be forever in her heart.

Ken Keegan, Carlton’s dad, said when faced with the tragedy, “I choose gratitude.”

He once took his boy out in an inflatable canoe at Half Moon Bay, he recalled.

“There’s actually some waves coming in that day,” he said. “The wave is sucking us up and about to crest.”

They appeared to be heading to the “stratosphere,” when father turned to son.

“Surf’s up dude,” the boy said.

“Crazy kid,” he remembered.

While the event’s emcee, Twin Lakes Church Associate Pastor Jim Josselyn, said while he understands people in attendance come from a variety of faith backgrounds, the Easter story did make a difference to him after his father’s death.

“This is what comforted me,” he said. “Believing in the resurrection.”

Afterward, Duncan told the Press Banner the turnout is evidence of the strength of the Scotts Valley community.

“It was beautiful,” she said of the service for Keegan. “We’re going to miss him.”

Matthew O’Brien-Rojo, said he won’t forget the hustle of his football co-captain.

“Carlton and I played both ways—offense and defense,” he said, remembering their run to the top this past season. “It was really special.”

When their coach ran a defensive play, they’d be right next to each other—literally.

“It’s really helpful to know that I can trust him,” he said. “It makes it easier for me.”

O’Brien-Rojo said he really enjoyed the ceremony, despite his grief.

“It’s really hard,” he said. “But—moving forward.”

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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