Erica McKeel stays busy with her 18-month-old and 7-month-old daughters, and she’s also in the midst of moving from Kansas to Texas.
However, she says nothing will keep her from being in Richmond Hill on June 27 for the grand opening of the Murphy McKeel Mile trail at DeVaul Henderson Recreation Park.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” she said. “There was too much blood, sweat and tears put into it in honor of my son.”
The walking trail was constructed through a $100,000 Georgia Department of Natural Resources grant McKeel secured while she was working for the South Bryan County Recreation Department. The county then decided to name the trail in honor of her son, who died after a January 2012 car crash.
McKeel and other members of her family will attend the Murphy McKeel Mile dedication. The ribbon cutting at 9 a.m. will be followed by a one-mile walk along the trail.
Pre-registration for the walk is $10 and available at www.sbcrec.org, and registration the day of the race will be $15. All proceeds will support special-needs programs in South Bryan.
“We need a big turnout for that,” Commissioner Steve Myers said after sharing McKeel’s story at last week’s Bryan County commissioners meeting.
McKeel was on her way to work on the morning of Jan. 5, 2012, when another driver turned into the path of her car and caused a collision at Highway 144 and Capt. Matthew Freeman Drive. She was seven months pregnant with her first child, to be named Murphy.
The little boy suffered brain damage and was delivered prematurely on Jan. 18. He clung to life for about a month before he died on Valentine’s Day.
Her son would have had “major disabilities” had he survived, McKeel said. Knowing the challenges Murphy would have faced made McKeel more aware of some local deficiencies in serving the special-needs community, namely areas of Henderson Park being difficult for people with disabilities to reach.
After returning to work with South Bryan County Recreation, McKeel wrote and submitted the request for the DNR grant. Along with being a walking trail, the one-mile path connects Henderson Park’s Lake Trail to the sidewalk leading from the parking lot, making access easier for people with special needs.
“It was a part of the community I felt we weren’t servicing well, and this was what I could do to help,” McKeel said. “I had a small glimpse into that world in the short time we had my son.”
Once the county received the grant, McKeel said, she expected the walking trail to be named “after someone important.” She was touched when county leaders told her the path would bear her son’s name.
“I thought, ‘That’s amazing,’” she said. “It was an honor.”
McKeel moved from Bryan County last year, when the Army transferred her husband, Caleb, to Kansas. After just a year there, the couple is moving again, this time to Texas.
The hectic schedule will allow McKeel to be back in Bryan County for just the day of theMurphy McKeel Mile dedication before she returns to her new home. Although the visit will be brief, she looks forward to being back in a community she said has “been very good to us.”
The McKeels also are thankful for the two additions to their family since Murphy’s tragic death. Daughter Fiona was born a year-and-a-half ago, and the couple adopted 7-month old daughter Darby.
“We miss him dearly,” McKeel said of her son, “but we’re very blessed at the same time.”
She hopes the Murphy McKeel Mile might make an even bigger difference beyond carrying on the memory of her son. Someone curious about the origin of the trail’s name could do a quick bit of online research and learn “how he died, that he didn’t have to,” McKeel said.
The driver who caused the crash was on his phone at the time, McKeel said. She wants Murphy’s death to be a lesson on the potentially deadly result of distracted driving.
“I hope the name does more than honor my son, but it saves somebody else,” McKeel said.