A tight-knit Tama-Toledo community today is mourning the loss of 13-year-old Ian McFate, a “courageous” middle school student who died Tuesday after being hit by a car during cross-country practice.
The eighth grader in the South Tama County Community School District was training with his cross-country team about 4:50 p.m. Monday on the Tama-Toledo Recreation Trail when he was hit by a car while crossing Highway E49, authorities reported.
A 30-year-old Montour man identified as Timothy Nunnikhoven was driving the 2000 Honda Accord that hit McFate while heading west on Highway E49, according to the Iowa State Patrol. Neither Nunnikhoven nor his passengers were injured in the collision, authorities reported.
The State Patrol is continuing to investigate the crash, and it’s unknown at this time whether Nunnikhoven will face charges.
A Google Street view of the accident scene:
McFate was flown to Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines late Monday where he remained on life support for much of the day Tuesday. He was pronounced dead just after 3 p.m. Tuesday, according to hospital spokesman Gregg Lagen.
Morgan McFate, who identified herself as Ian McFate’s older sister, posted this message on her Facebook page about 3:15 p.m.:
“My little brother left us today at 3 PM with all of us holding onto and around him,” she wrote. “My heart is in pieces. I will always have a special spot in my heart just for him and will remember him everyday. Goodbye Bug. I love you — your big sis.”
The fatal collision comes two weeks after a Washington High School student was hit by a car during his cross country practice in Cedar Rapids and provides a tragic reminder of the importance of traffic safety for road runners.
“You just can’t assume that the drivers know you’re there,” said Benton Community cross country coach Marty Thomae. “They might have the sun their eyes. They might be fiddling with the radio. There are just so many variables.”
‘Close to our hearts’
The trail that McFate was running on when he was hit sits just west of Sesame Drive in Tama and crosses the highway just as the road transitions from town to country driving. Tama police Sgt. Jeff Filloon said the speed limit in town and in front of the trail is 25 mph, but it jumps to 55 mph about 30 yards west of the trail.
Pedestrians on the trail do not have a stop sign where the path crosses the highway, Filloon said.
The community has not had safety issues with pedestrians on that trail before, Filloon said, but some “out of town” drivers do speed up early when they see the 55 mph ahead.
By Tuesday evening, about 900 people had liked the page and dozens had posted condolences and heart-felt words of how heartbroken they were about the community’s loss.
“Ian, you were a very brave lil’ guy and fought like a true champion,” one person wrote.
“You’ve touched so many more lives than you will ever know,” another person wrote. “We love you Ian.”
McFate’s mom is listed as vocal music teacher for South Tama, and his dad is listed as a member of the South Tama County Board of Education.
Superintendent Kerri Nelson told The Gazette on Tuesday that Ian McFate and his family “are very involved in the Tama Toledo community and contribute in many ways.”
“The last 24 hours have been difficult,” she wrote. “They are close to our hearts as they are involved in so many different parts of the school community.”
Nelson said that Ian was a “very nice young man” who also was involved in band and choir.
She said the school district on Tuesday organized its Crisis Team for students and staff members needing counseling support.
‘ Be careful out there’
Iowa High School Athletic Association official David Anderson told The Gazette that he’s unaware of any car-pedestrian accidents involving cross country runners other than the two this fall.
Washington High student Patrick Reirden – who suffered a concussion and a badly bruised arm in his Sept. 18 collision — has returned to practice. The day after Reirden was hit near the intersection of Cottage Grove Drive and Eastern Boulevard SE in Cedar Rapids, Washington cross country coach Will Harte took his runners to the scene of the accident.
“We stood at the intersection, and we watched the cars go by for a couple minutes,” Harte said. “They might as well have been driving on Interstate 380, they were moving so fast.”
He said it was good for the kids to see.
“It made them realize that you’ve got to run defensively,” Harte said. “When you let your guard down is when accidents happen.”
Before each practice, Harte said, he meets with his team, discusses the workout and sends the runners out with the same closing sentence – a plea, maybe a prayer.
“Let’s be careful out there.”
Washington coach talks about safety to his team: