John Bruggeman reflects on his son, Brandon, who was killed in a bicycle accident in Carroll in 2012. The large rock behind Bruggeman was found by workers as they were digging Brandon’s grave. The family moved the rock to a garden located behind their house on 12th Street.
John Bruggeman reflects on his son, Brandon, who was killed in a bicycle accident in Carroll in 2012. The large rock behind Bruggeman was found by workers as they were digging Brandon’s grave. The family moved the rock to a garden located behind their house on 12th Street.
September 19, 2013



Part of a bike frame sits in a rock garden behind John Bruggeman's house.

His 13-year-old son, Brandon, loved to ride. But he died when he crashed into a minivan in April 2012, and now, John Bruggeman is determined to keep other kids safe on Carroll's roads.

"Brandon ran a stop sign, and he paid the ultimate price," he said. "I don't want any parents to go through what we've gone through."

Bruggeman, who drives a school bus, has worked with the city to arrange for 18 "Keep Kids Alive, Drive 25" signs to be placed near the Carroll Recreation Center, Carroll Stadium, Des Moines Area Community College and the Carroll Family Aquatic Center. There are several versions of the sign to match the speed limits in various areas.

After those areas are covered, extra signs will be put up near the middle and high schools.

The signs are meant to keep drivers from going faster than the speed limit. There's no evidence that the minivan that Bruggeman's son struck was speeding, but he said the new signs are the best way for him to improve children's safety.

Bruggeman worked with Carroll Police Chief Jeff Cayler to plan the project.

"It has no regulatory effect, but it's one more thing to drive public awareness," Cayler said.

The police chief initially asked the City Council to approve $1,000 from the city's crime prevention/special project fund, but the council voted to allocate $2,000 instead.

"I think everybody's behind what you want to do," Councilman Tom Tait, who proposed the increase, said at the meeting.

Most of the signs will be put up today and Friday. They are part of a larger campaign, also called Keep Kids Alive, Drive 25.

Each year, the organization plans a 13-mile foot race up Pikes Peak in Colorado to raise money for families of people killed in traffic-related incidents. This year, Brandon will be among the names who are honored.

The 13-year-old enjoyed playing Xbox, watching races at the Iowa Speedway, playing poker and fishing. He liked to take things apart and put them together again. As a child, he helped with the construction of the family's house.

He also loved football. He was a lineman on the team at Kuemper's St. Lawrence Center. The team retired his number, 70, and gave his jersey and helmet to his family.

Brandon was an Iowa Hawkeyes fan, although his dad prefers the Iowa State Cyclones.

"We were a house divided," Bruggeman joked. "We always rubbed each other's wounds."

After Brandon's death, a friend made a windmill for the family's rock garden. It was shaped like the Cyclone mascot.

"He thought Brandon was an Iowa State fan," Bruggeman said with a grin. "But it was OK, because those are Kuemper colors."

The garden also features a large rock - Bruggeman estimated it weighs at least 1,000 pounds. Workers digging Brandon's grave in the Carroll City Cemetery hit the rock and said it was the largest one they've found there. When they offered it to Bruggeman, he accepted, then built the rock garden around it.

Bruggeman said the response from Carroll after his son's death was overwhelming.

"When Brandon died, the community just poured their hearts out to us," he said.

Bruggeman had worked with the Carroll Fire Department for 10 years, and although he had left the department some time ago, firefighters filed into his son's funeral, wearing their red coats.

Bruggeman took a week off work after Brandon's death. On his first day back, the students riding with him, as young as preschool-aged, all shook his hand as they climbed onto the bus.

"I couldn't take it," he said. "I went back and said, 'I need more time off.'"

The family has raised money selling T-shirts and baseball caps like the one Bruggeman wears, sporting his son's jersey number and reading "Brandon Bruggeman. Gone but not forgotten." They hope to set up a scholarship fund for Brandon's classmates.

At one game, Brandon's teammates called out his name each time they left a huddle. This year, his class - high-school freshmen by now - gave the Bruggeman family a plaque with Brandon's photo and a poem he wrote for class about friendship.

Part of it read: "A friend will stick up for you if other people are not being nice to you. They are also someone who would play Xbox with you and help you get through it faster. A friend is someone that will help you through anything in your life."

More than a year after his death, Brandon's presence is still very evident in the Bruggeman house. His photo adorns a refrigerator in the garage. The Legos he used are still set up in the family's basement.

Bruggeman, who often sees drivers texting, talking on the phone or fiddling with their radios when he's driving the bus, wants them to do two things when they see the signs - look down at their speedometer, and look up to see if there are kids in front of them.

"I just think that by putting these signs up, if I can save one kid's life, it's well worth it," he said.