Trevor Canaday, 14, was a rare combination.
Football player and show-choir member. Offensive guard and budding singer. Pancake blocker who would then stop and check on the opponent he just leveled instead of following the play downfield. Science student who loved sports.
And cars. Loved building them out of Legos as a kid. Loved going to car shows as a teen. There he would gaze at muscle cars. But he was also obsessed with newer-technology cars. So much so that he gathered his science buddies and their teacher and tried to come up with a way to make a car run on — wait for it — water.
“This was not a fantasy,” his father, Bryan Canaday, said Thursday. “He wanted to send the design of these cars to GM so they could put his design into production.”
He was still working on that project, still working on so many projects, when his life ended at the hands of a five-time drunken driver, angry and hellbent on running a red light after a dispute over rent owed.
For his actions, Bennington resident Jeffrey Eggeling, 37, was sentenced Thursday to 43 to 53 years in prison. The maximum sentence Judge Gary Randall could have imposed was the 53-year term.
Under state law, which cuts most sentences in half, Eggeling must serve 21½ years before he is eligible for parole; absent parole, he will serve 26½ years.
“Our sentence has not been cut in half,” Bryan Canaday told the judge, wife Becky by his side. “My family and I have been given a life sentence without parole.”
In stirring speeches, Bryan and Becky Canaday took Judge Randall through Trevor’s “forever 14” life, abbreviated by that devastating Dec. 1 crash.
The courtroom — one of the largest at the Douglas County Courthouse — was packed with Trevor’s extended family, friends and about 20 Millard North high school students who just happened to be on a field trip to observe court.
The first day of this past December had been a typical Saturday — cold and lazy. Trevor’s freshman football season at Millard South was over, and his baseball season was months away.
Next on his always-busy activities list: show-choir performances.
Few at Millard South had done what Trevor was doing: balancing a busy football season with show-choir practices.
Even fewer Millard South students had made it to the front row of the song-and-dance team as freshmen. But there Trevor was.
Sure, teammates ribbed Trevor, his dad said, but that quickly subsided as they saw what a passion he had for the stage.
That Saturday, the song-and-dance group had planned a casual get-together. Bryan and Trevor were bringing snacks.
Bryan was in the left turn lane of Harrison Street, turning north onto 144th.
At the same time, Eggeling was torqued. He drank that Saturday afternoon and had gotten into a dispute with a man over rent owed.
Eggeling tore away in his Ford Escape, headed north on 144th Street.
He ran a red light at 144th and Harrison Streets and, going about 69 mph, crashed into Bryan Canady’s Nissan Maxima. Eggeling hit Canady’s passenger side, where Trevor sat, with so much force that it ripped Trevor’s seat belt from its moorings and ejected Trevor into the middle of the intersection.
The crash nearly severed Bryan Canady’s Nissan Maxima in half — and broke Bryan’s sternum and lacerated his liver.
Eggeling, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering, got out of his SUV, surveyed the crash site and walked away, prosecutor Ryan Lindberg said. Eggeling had a history of impairment, with three prior convictions for driving under the influence and a fourth for operating a boat while drunk.
Omaha police tracked him down through his parents and several friends. When they found him about 9 p.m., more than three hours after the crash, his blood-alcohol level was .10, above the legal limit for driving.
Thursday, in a rare sight, Eggeling turned away from the judge and toward the gallery as he read from a statement.
He blasted himself for “how heartless and self-centered I have become” and for all “the pain and fear and sadness and sorrow I’ve caused your families.”
“I’m such a foolish, sick, cowardly human for running from that intersection,” he said.
His voice bent into a whimper and he raised an index finger to the corner of his eyes. No tears appeared.
That in part led Bryan Canaday to declare that “the drunken driver” — he refused to say Eggeling’s name — wasn’t really remorseful. And to declare that Eggeling “has been a coward all his life ... never owning up to his errors.”
Judge Randall said he believes that Eggeling is remorseful. But the remorse is too late. The time to be remorseful was after his first four drunken driving convictions — all of which occurred between 2005 and 2016, Randall said.
“I don’t doubt that you didn’t intend to kill Trevor,” Randall said. “But I also know that with all your previous drinking and driving ... you knew what would happen.”
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Becky Canaday remembered June 7, 2004 — the day her “big beautiful baby boy was born.” He was a happy kid full of “smiles and laughter and a caring and loving nature.” His imagination and humor showed up in corny jokes and zany antics.
Trevor loved Truffles (the family dog that always slept in his bed), cars and car shows, singing and show choir, “football and baseball, equally,” Becky said. She rattled off all the rites of passage he won’t see: driving for the first time (he fruitlessly begged his parents to let him drive at 14), playing varsity football or baseball, starring in a show-choir production, graduating from high school and college, getting married ...
She described how, in the early-morning hours of Dec. 2, doctors delivered the news with “four words no parent should ever have to hear.”
“Not viable for life.”
Behind Becky, Trevor’s sisters, Tessa and Zoee, quietly wiped away tears.
Bryan Canaday recalled one of his few memories from the day of the crash. His sternum was fractured from “stem to stem.” His liver was lacerated. His torso was bloating with fluid and blood. Doctors had to rush him into the operating room.
“Next thing I remember was Becky telling me that Trevor was not going to make it — that his injuries were too severe,” Bryan Canaday said, choking back tears. “Them taking me to see Trevor in his room ... so I could say goodbye.”
Bryan Canaday said he carries on for, and because of, his wife and daughters. But it’s beyond difficult — an angst heard in the periodic high-pitched breaks in Bryan’s voice.
“There is a ... weight on my soul that will never leave me,” he said. “It makes some days totally unbearable to get out of bed. But I do because that is what Trevor would want me to do.
“I fear that this weight will crush me one day. There are still days that I come home from work and I start to call upstairs, ‘Trevor, I’m home,’ only to hear my brain tell me that I will not hear an answer from him again.”