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After three UW swimmers die on Highway 287, the community comes together to remember

University of Wyoming Athletics

On a Wednesday evening, University of Wyoming (UW) students, faculty and community poured into the Arena-Auditorium on the UW Campus.

Even though a couple hundred people were in the basketball arena, it was eerily quiet and felt empty. They were there to attend the celebration of life memorial in honor of the three UW swimmers who passed away in a single vehicle crash on US Highway 287 between Fort Collins, Colo. and Livermore, Colo. at the end of February.

UW Head Swim Coach Dave Denniston was at the right of the stage. Holding a microphone, he broke the silence, giving everyone in attendance insight on how special the three swimmers were to him.

“The unique smiles of Charlie, Carson and Luke will be ingrained in our memory forever,” he said.

He started by reflecting on 21-year-old Luke Slabber who was a junior from Cape Town, South Africa.

“To me, Luke’s smile always said, ‘watch this,’ because you never knew what he was going to do,” he added.

Denniston then shared a happy memory of 18-year-old Carson Muir, a freshman from Birmingham, Alabama.

“Carson’s smile was the biggest of everyone I’ve ever seen or coached, especially after she had seen a baby cottontail right outside the pool right before practice,” he said. “She loved those little bunnies.”

And Denniston highlighted 19-year-old Charlie Clark’s - a sophomore from Las Vegas, Nev. - playfulness.

“And Charlie’s smile indicated that he knew something you didn’t and he wasn’t going to tell you what he knew either and so his smile got bigger and goofier knowing he had his own inside joke in his brain,” Denniston said.

Almost two weeks after the tragic accident, Denniston has taken on a task that no head coach wishes for. But he said the UW swim team and community has shown strength and unity more than ever.

“I have the honor and privilege of being called Coach by everybody here in the front few rows, and even a few of you that are up in the stands,” he said. “By these amazing young people who possess a strength that no coach can pull out of an athlete in any arena or pool.”

Another speaker at the memorial was Gov. Mark Gordon.

“To stand here and think about those three wonderful lives and the tragedy that this university has experienced far too often, it hurts, hurts deeply,” he said. “Wyoming grieves, this university grieves, students grieve.”

The UW community is no stranger to a tragic event like this. A similar incident occurred on this same highway nearly 23 years ago where eight UW track athletes were killed in a head-on collision. Since then, seven other UW students have been killed on the highway.

“This brings back memories, far too fond of people that we love dearly. And the comfort of this service, this outpouring of support, this coming together is what we have,” said Gordon.

After the speakers, people gathered in small groups around the arena chatting. Including a handful of Colorado State University (CSU) swimming and diving members showing their support.

“We signed the petition to put guardrails on,” said CSU swimmer Megan Hager.

After the crash, a former UW student started a petition to implement guardrails on Highway 287 for safer travel.

“I think that would be the bare minimum. We drove up through Cheyenne so we didn’t have to come up through 287 today,” Hager said.

Standing next to Hager was Anika Johnson.

“I think the swimming community is pretty tight-knit. So when something like this happens, especially when it’s so close to our home I feel like it’s not something we want to brush over easily,” she said.

But it didn’t only impact swimmers, said former UW student Hector Martinez.

“I really just wanted to come down and pay my respects to the three swimmers and to the whole team and the whole community too,“ he said. “We all, as a community, suffered a tragic loss so I just wanted to be a part of that and be there for the memorial.”

Martinez also signed the petition. As of March 14, it’s received 2,520 signatures out of a 5,000 signature goal. The hope is once they get enough signatures, it can convince the Wyoming Department of Transportation or National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to build guardrails.

Those contagious smiles that Charlie, Carson and Luke possessed will certainly be hard to forget.

As a Texas native, Weston is no stranger to sports. His love for football has motivated him to pursue a career in sports broadcast journalism. Weston is a senior at UW majoring in Communication with the anticipation to graduate in May 2024.

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