For Tracey Babitzke, the death of her 6-year-old son in Friday’s wrong-way crash is particularly cruel because of its timing.
Just two weeks before, the 39-year-old said, she left a troubled marriage and had hoped for a brighter future with her son, Henry Babitzke. When Tracey Babitzke recently bought a storage unit, Henry told her he was proud of her for owning something and finding her freedom, she said.
“I love him so much, and I’m grieving and I don’t know what to do,” she said.
Babitzke said her sister, Ericka Gorremans, 32, was driving Henry and Gorremans’ son Clayton, 10, to a church camping trip when the crash occurred. Their car was struck head-on by a driver heading the wrong way on Interstate 5.
The collision happened just before 2 p.m. Friday when a Vancouver man was driving south in the northbound lanes of I-5.
Four people reported the driver to 911 moments before the crash occurred, said Washington State Patrol Trooper Will Finn.
Gorremans and Clayton were sent to OHSU Hospital in Portland after the collision and are undergoing surgeries for their injuries, Babitzke said. Gorremans’ condition was serious Monday night; her son’s was unavailable.
Gorremans was able to relay a brief message about what happened at the site of the crash: Henry told her, “I love you,” and said “ouch” before he died.
WSP reported Saturday that Gage Musgrave, 84, the other driver, was in satisfactory condition at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. An update on his condition was not available Monday.
Babitzke said she doesn’t know much about what happened regarding the crash, and she harbors no hard feelings toward Musgrave. “We are all human and God makes a plan. That’s all I know,” she said.
She described her son as a smiley, energetic boy who enjoyed hiking, fishing and being by the water; they frequented the wetlands in La Center. Some of her friends were saving up money to take him on a trip to Disneyland.
Henry was a bright student at La Center Elementary School, his mother said. Additional grief counselors were brought to the school Monday to help students cope with his death.
Following the district’s plan for responding to tragedies, staff set up a “safe room,” where students and staff could share their feelings, said Mark Mansell, superintendent of the La Center School District. The protocol offers a sense of stability and normalcy, he said.
“In a small school community, we’re connected in so many ways,” Mansell said.
Babitzke said she worries about how she’ll afford a proper burial for her son, though loved ones have offered to set up a donation account for her.
“My stomach is so sick. I just can’t handle it,” she said.
As she talked with The Columbian, Babitzke piled her belongings into a Toyota 4-Runner at her husband’s Woodland home. She’s moving to Gorremans’ house in La Center. When Gorremans and Clayton are discharged from the hospital, Babitzke said, she’ll help nurse them back to health.
Throughout his childhood, Henry was exposed to his parents’ fighting, Babitzke said. According to court documents, she filed a protection order against her husband, Ryan Babitzke, 40, last month, and he was arrested on suspicion of second-degree assault domestic violence just two weeks before the crash. Ryan Babitzke was ordered by Clark County Superior Court to live with his parents in Vancouver and is scheduled to appear in court today.
“Maybe God just didn’t want Henry to see that,” Tracey Babitzke said. “It’s too hurtful even being here.”