The driver of a car that hit and killed 13-year-old Ian McFate during cross-country practice in Tama on Oct. 1 glanced down momentarily before looking up to see the teen ahead of him, an investigator said Thursday.
The eighth grader in the South Tama County Community School District was training with his cross-country team about 4:50 p.m. on the Tama-Toledo Recreation Trail and was crossing Highway E49 when he was hit by a car, authorities reported.
McFate was headed north on the trail, toward the school, and was nearing the end of his run, said Iowa State Patrol Trooper Sean Helton, who investigated the accident. There were a few runners behind him, but most of the other students had finished, and Helton said there were no witnesses nearby.
“And unfortunately, I can't get Ian's side of the story,” Helton said. “I don't know what he saw or what he was attempting to do. I don't know if he had his back to traffic – I'll never know that.”
Timothy Nunnikhoven, 30, of Montour, was driving the 2000 Honda Accord that hit McFate while headed west on Highway E49 out of town, according to the State Patrol. Nunnikhoven told investigators that something fell from his passenger seat to the floor board, and he looked at it for a moment, according to Helton. He didn't reach for it or bend over, Helton said.
“He said he looked down and looked back up, and all of the sudden, Ian was in front of him,” Helton said. “It all happened so quick – it was unfortunate timing.”
There were no blind spots and there was not a glare from the sun affecting Nunnikhoven's ability to see that afternoon, Helton said. Nunnikhoven had his 6- and 3-year-old children in the back seat at the time, Helton said, but there's no evidence they created a distraction.
Helton reported that Nunnikhoven slammed on his brakes and veered to the left to try to avoid hitting McFate. Immediately following the collision, Nunnikhoven stopped his car, called 911 and began trying to find a pulse, Helton reported.
A nurse in the community arrived at the scene shortly, and Nunnikhoven stayed and tried to help, Helton said. McFate was flown to Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines on Oct. 1, where he remained on life support until he died Oct. 2.
The State Patrol hasn't come to a final conclusion on whether to file charges against Nunnikhoven. Helton said his office is waiting on autopsy reports and some statements from witnesses who were on the scene after the accident.
The trail McFate was running on crosses the highway just as the road transitions from town to country driving. 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, according to Tama police.
Pedestrians on the trail don't have a stop sign where the path crosses the highway, but Tama police have not had a previous safety concerns with that crossing.
A Facebook page has been created titled, “Prayers for Ian McFate.” To date, 1,474 people have liked the page. Two days after the accident, the page's creator delivered a message from Ian's father, Mark McFate.
“I want to write to you all so badly but I can't, it's just too painful,” he wrote. “But everyone needs to know how much you all mean to us now and every day.”
McFate's dad is listed as a member of the South Tama County Board of Education. His mom is listed as a vocal music teacher for South Tama.
A memorial for McFate was held Oct. 8. His sister reported on her Facebook page that more than 500 people attended.