Daniel Ahlers, age 14, died in a rollover vehicle accident in Gillette Saturday night.
Editor’s Note: County 17 received permission from the family to print this story and the names of their two juvenile sons. Photo was also provided by the family.
Sweet. Goofy. Big-hearted. Jokester. Loving brother. Doting son. Those are just a few of the descriptions that mom, Liza Ahlers, used to describe her 14-year-old boy, Daniel, who was killed Saturday night in a rollover accident.
“He was a fighter,” Liza said. “With big brown eyes and dimples that always got him out of trouble.”
More than anything, Liza wants to celebrate her son’s life, not his untimely death, which under the circumstances isn’t an option.
Monday afternoon, less than days after her son was killed, she listened impassively from her seat in Courtroom A of the Circuit Court of the 6th Judicial District, staring at the back of a TV screen as 37-year-old Matthew Coleman was arraigned remotely on the charge of aggravated vehicular homicide. Due to restrictions surrounding COVID-19, Coleman spoke from the Campbell County Detention Center before Circuit Judge Wendy Bartlett.
Saturday night, Coleman had rolled his Dodge pickup with his two children, Daniel and his younger brother Ben Jr., and another friend in the back seat, as he turned west from Burma onto Metz Drive. According to evidence introduced by Deputy County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Reade, Coleman had a blood alcohol level of .15, twice the legal limit.
“He had been fishtailing,” Reade said. “He was drunk, he wasn’t malicious, but he lost control.”
The pickup had been traveling at a high speed when it hit the curb and rolled twice, according to court documents. Daniel was partially ejected and died of massive head trauma on impact. The other passengers were okay, except Ben Jr., who broke his hand on the mailbox in grief. He’d held his brother while waiting for EMTs to arrive.
During the hearing Monday, Coleman stoically answered Judge Bartlett’s queries about his basic information.
His bail was set at $100,000 cash only, after Coleman’s lawyer Steven Titus, of Steven Titus & Associates, P.C., argued down Reade’s initial request of $500,000, citing other similar cases in which the bail had been considerably less.
“We’ve lost a child,” Reade emotionally argued. “It doesn’t get any more dangerous to the community than this.”
Coleman has also been ordered to enroll in the 24/7 sobriety program at the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office, and to have no contact with the witnesses or the parents of the other children who were in the car. His preliminary hearing has been set for 9 a.m on June 15.
Outside the courtroom, Daniel’s brothers waited in a quiet huddle as Liza and dad, Ben Ahlers, shared stories about he and his son’s propensity of taking turns to pick songs on the radio. Ben always picked country songs, which Ben Jr. and his older brother, 21-year-old Hector, surmised might have something to do with Daniel’s sudden interest in wearing a cowboy hat.
Daniel had the hat on when he died, which Liza said the police had been kind enough to return.
The family also discussed potential plans for a vigil.
“Many kids are confused,” said Sara Cage, Hector’s stepmom and close friend to Liza, despite having since married Liza’s first husband Russ four years ago. They’re a ‘weird’ family, Sara joked, but close, nonetheless.
“He was the love of my life,” Liza said through tears. “Like every one of my (four) boys.”
More than anything, despite their loss, both Liza and Sara talked about the compassion of the police, first responders and the community, from the EMT staff member who has called Liza repeatedly to see if she could bring her over food, to the entire community who have donated to the GoFundMe page started by Sara on Sunday.
“It’s been an outpouring of support,” Sara said. “More than anything I ever expected.”