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Calhan comes together honoring two of its own

By: Jakob Rodgers
November 2, 2013 Updated: November 27, 2013 at 6:01 pm
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Hundreds of people bow their heads in prayer Saturday, November 2, 2013 before the start of a benefit rodeo for the Ellis and O'Neill families, both of Calhan, who lost daughters in separate car accidents in September. All proceeds from the rodeo will go to the families of Jae Ellis and Tiffany O'Neill. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

A horse named Holly entered first, walking into a packed arena with a second painted horse on its tail.

No one rode those beautiful animals.

Instead they walked riderless into the opening ceremonies of a rodeo - signifying the absence of two Calhan teenagers who died 14 hours apart in two separate crashes.

Hundreds of people gathered Saturday to raise money for the families of those two teens - one of whom left behind a 3-month-old son when the convertible she was driving flipped twice southeast of Calhan.

"I don't think she had any idea how much she impacted people," said Tammy O'Neill, the girl's mother.

On Sept. 4, Jae Ellis, 14, died when the car she was riding in rolled over on Funk Road southeast of Calhan, leaving her brother, the driver, clinging to life. Paramedics rushed Jourdan Ellis to the hospital with a collapsed lung, a lacerated spleen, two broken vertebrae, a broken shoulder blade, a concussion, to name a few.

Another crash the next day left Calhan High School reeling.

Tiffany O'Neill, 16, over-corrected when the car she was driving edged off Funk Road, sending the car careening off the pavement.

Administrators closed the school as many classmates rushed to the hospital. On Saturday, many of those same people showed to ride in their memory. One teacher tried his hand at bullriding, while more than 100 other people signed up to compete.

In the stands, Tiffany O'Neill's son, Drake, bounced in Tammy O'Neill's lap, wearing the same black cowboy boots his mother wore as an infant.

"He looks like mommy," Tammy O'Neill said. "He's got her button nose."

In a wheelchair a few feet from the rodeo arena's railing, Jourdan Ellis looked on with a smile while friends walked up to shake his hand, or crack jokes about his curly hair.

Walking again might be a long shot, though he's waiting to see what happens when the swelling in his spinal cord goes down. Most of his other injuries have healed.

"I'm not mad about it," Jourdan, 16, said. "I can do everything anyone else can, but slower."

His father stood to Jourdan's side, shaking his head at the sight of hundreds of people doing exactly what Jae loved to do - riding horses. She was a gifted athlete, playing basketball and volleyball, but she also loved saddling up.

Her father watched on Saturday as Holly rode in without a rider. Hundreds of people stood by his side.

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @jakobrodgers

Facebook Jakob Rodgers

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