The lives of two members of a local Moab family were lost in a multi-car collision on Main Street on the night of Feb. 9. Police say Moab local Vilsar Camey, 45, was killed when a reckless driver ran a red light at high speed at the intersection of Center Street and Main Street, crashing into an SUV occupied by Vilsar and his ten-year-old son, Israel. Israel was taken to the hospital with critical injuries; he passed away on Tuesday night as a result of those injuries.
According to police, the reckless driver’s vehicle then struck a second SUV, occupied by Moab resident Katherine Sawyer, who was taken to the local hospital for injuries. Sawyer was pregnant and delivered her daughter prematurely via C-section. The baby was transferred to Grand Junction for care.
“Mom and baby are both doing well,” reported Moab City Police Chief Bret Edge in a call with the Moab Sun News on Tuesday.
Remembering Vilsar and Israel
Vilsar and Israel Camey are survived by Vilsar’s wife, Monica, and son, Samuel, a seventh-grade student at Grand County Middle School. Vilsar worked in hotel maintenance and was a beloved pastor at Principe de Paz (Prince of Peace), a local church. Karura Ewoldt is a long-time friend of the Camey family and she said Vilsar was an exceptional person.
“He was an amazing human being. He was always there for everybody,” she said, describing how he always made time for anyone who needed a listener, advice, words from the Bible, or just a hug. “He’s one of those people that you don’t get to meet more than once or twice in a lifetime,” said Ewoldt. She said Vilsar was a guitar player and taught her brother to play as well. Israel and Vilsar would play music together at church services.
Ewoldt said Israel was bright and talented, with a passion for soccer. She said he was unusually polite for a ten year old and always wore a smile.
“He was an extremely happy little boy,” she said. “He left us too soon.”
Vilsar and his son were both avid soccer players, joining in weekly community pick-up games.
Moab resident Ashley Korenblat got to know the Cameys at those soccer games. Later her son and Samuel Camey played on the same middle school soccer team. Korenblat remembers Vilsar and Israel as warm, caring and full of energy.
“Vilsar was quite the soccer player,” she wrote in a Feb.12 facebook post. “He would glide across the field in an instant.”
She went on to describe how he would place the ball to allow kids to score, or play strategically to keep one team from winning by too much.
She described how Israel, three years younger than his brother, “put his heart and soul into every play,” eager to join the game even when he was the smallest player on the field.
“He was interested in everything,” Korenblat said of Israel.
She once explained to him her advocacy work in public lands, and years later she was touched when he remembered the conversation, asking, “So you are still working for nature, right?”
The boys had the opportunity to travel to Spain to attend a soccer camp there. They made cookies and dog biscuits in Korenblat’s kitchen to raise money for the trip. Korenblat accompanied the boys to Spain and remembered watching Israel block a penalty shot at the end of a tied game against a Barcelona team.
“The American 10-year-olds won the game!” she wrote. “The team mobbed Israel and the parents went crazy.”
The Moab community has joined the Camey family in mourning, and several funds have been set up to help with hospital and funeral expenses. Zions Bank, Mountain America Credit Union, and Eastern Utah Community Credit Union have each also set up donation accounts for the family. Donations can be made under the name Monica Ovando Camey. There is also a GoFundMe page, which can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/accident-in-moab-utah-292020.
“We have to take care of Samy and his mother Monica who will somehow have to live without Vilsar and Israel. Their faith and their family and all of their friends will be here for them,” Korenblat wrote.
Caring for the Camey family is one way to process grief. Graduate Counseling Intern for Clinical Mental Health Pippa Thomas, who works at the Four Corners Community Behavioral Health clinic in Moab, talked about other ways that community members can deal with grief. She particularly addressed how parents of children who may have lost a classmate can be a guide for their sons and daughters as they process their feelings.
“Kids look to adults to how they should be processing and responding,” Thomas said. “My advice is to let your kid know that we feel a lot of different things at a time like this, and feeling a lot of different things is normal.”
She said parents should let their kids be the lead on expressing what they want or need from their parents.
“You’re there for them if they want to talk about it, or if they just want a hug, or if they just want to be around someone. You’re there to answer their questions if they want to ask them,” Thomas said. “Just make sure you let your kids know that you are there for whatever it is they need or want from you.”
Thomas also said that grieving as a community can be very healing, and can help strengthen our community identity.
“When we can gather together and recognize each other’s humanity, we as a community can let a lot of other differences go and recognize each other on deeper levels,” she said. “That sense of connection makes everybody feel less alone, and stronger, in the moment. It actually can also make us feel stronger and more resilient moving forward.”
Funeral services for Vilsar and Israel will be held on Saturday, Feb. 15. Friends and family of Vilsar and Israel are taking comfort in faith and each other. The Moab Valley Multicultural Center posted a message on Facebook about Vilsar and Israel authorized by Monica Camey. It reads in part, “Heaven is celebrating two Angels.”
Details of the collision
Police report the suspect in the case is 42-year-old Benjamin Balls of Hyde Park, Utah. He was first observed around 8 p.m. on Sunday night driving north on Highway 191 in a white pickup truck, excessively speeding in the center lane. A Utah Highway Patrol Trooper saw Balls, turned on his emergency lights, and made a u-turn to pull in behind him and try to initiate a traffic stop. Balls did not heed the signal and continued to accelerate; the trooper knew the truck was traveling too fast to follow.
“The trooper recognized that it was not safe to pursue into town, so he immediately shut it down,” said Edge.
The state trooper notified dispatch, and the message was relayed to all Grand County officers, including the Grand County Sheriff’s office and the Moab Police Department.
Two Sheriff’s Office deputies saw Balls continuing to speed north on Main Street through town, and followed at a distance.
“This was significantly more than what we typically see,” said Edge. “This particular individual was driving not just extremely fast but in a very reckless manner, not utilizing the proper lanes for travel, running red lights, speeding—there were a number of additional factors.”
After the collision, Balls was transported to the hospital and then released into the custody of the Moab City Police Department. He is being held in the Grand County Jail without bail and charged with manslaughter, failure to respond to an officer's signal to stop resulting in death/injury, reckless driving, criminal mischief, failure to provide insurance at the scene of an accident, failure to obey traffic control devices, unsafe lane travel, and failure to operate in a single lane.
Investigation into the incident is ongoing, and Edge could not make a statement regarding whether Balls was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, Edge did say they had done a blood draw on Balls to test for substances, and the department would have the results of those tests within two weeks.
Edge said he was proud of the response to the incident from multiple agencies, including the Moab City Police Department, Utah Highway Patrol, the Grand County Sheriff's Office, Grand County Emergency Medical Services, the Moab Valley Fire Department, Moab City Public Works and the Utah Department of Transportation.
“It obviously was a pretty dynamic and traumatic incident but all the first responders worked really well together to handle the scene,” Edge said. “There was exceptional teamwork between all the agencies... We all worked really well together, I can’t say enough good things about the partnerships that we have will all of the agencies who responded.”
Members of those responding agencies are grieving along with the community.
“We’re absolutely heartbroken for both of the families who were involved in the incident,” said Edge.