Wyatt Eddy was combing corn fields in the sweltering heat, exploring aimlessly, as teens often do, when he suddenly experienced one of those chance encounters that change lives.
In his case, it was an encounter that would ultimately lead to the love of his life.
The 14-year-old, along with the rest of his family, was visiting his grandfather last summer in Cadiz, Kentucky, a rural town a fraction of the size of the teen’s native Torrance.
It was there, ambling among the stalks, that he stumbled across an old, rundown truck. He was enchanted.
Wyatt wanted to resurrect it.
His mother, however, had a different idea. With the help of family friend Stassin Sexton, who Wyatt considered an uncle, she tracked down a similar, but functioning vintage truck, also in Kentucky:
A 1966 Ford F100.
“It was,” Wendy Eddy said of her son and the truck, “love at first sight.”
Wyatt dreamed of shining up the dark green truck, of driving it back home and around town, of being a hit at classic car shows. He’d care for it, keep it in good condition and give it plenty of cruising time. He even gave the truck a name: Elmer T. Lee.
The love affair, however, was short-lived — the victim of a fatal tragedy.
Elmer T. Lee has since become a family memento of sorts, a keepsake to help with their grief. The truck is, as Wendy Eddy described it, the family’s “teddy bear.”
Wyatt’s love affair with Elmer wasn’t, of course, a romantic one. It was the kind of love affair that exists between a teen and his first vehicle.
But that makes it no less poignant.
What follows, then, is the story of Wyatt – a smart, charismatic teen, with a seemingly limitless future – and his truck, a classic covered in rust and named after a bourbon.
It’s a story filled with automotive love, brotherly love, familial love. Love of the ocean and the backwoods. And it’s a story that, despite the tragic ending six months ago last month, continues resonating with those who knew Wyatt – and even those who didn’t.
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Wyatt woke up early, at least by summer’s standards, scarfed down some eggs and was on the lake by noon.
He watched his brother wakeboard. Wyatt was content with either driving the boat or riding on an inner tube.
It was a typical summer day in Kentucky.
Wyatt spent two weeks each summer in the Bluegrass State visiting family.
He whiled away his time on Lake Barkley, at his great aunt and uncle’s house in Blue Springs Estates, hung around on his grandfather’s houseboat at Lake Barkley Marina and romped through the woods with friends in the Land Between the Lakes.
For a boy from Los Angeles County, it may seem odd that he loved rural life so much.
But that love, his mother said, was rooted in his knack for talking – to anyone. Even a man at a Kentucky AutoZone, with whom Wyatt once had an hour-long conversation while his mother waited outside.
“He said that in Kentucky, people help each other,” Wendy Eddy recalled her son saying. “They say hi.”
Wyatt’s descriptions of Kentucky life came from a journal he kept for class titled, “The Covid Chronicles.”
When the pandemic hit, Wyatt feared his summer Kentucky days were gone. The day schools shut down, he had lost hope.
“Jokingly, I had also brought up the idea of a road trip to Kentucky,” Wyatt wrote in his journal. “The next day when I woke up, my Mom had told me that all of the stores were closing, LA was going on lockdown.
“I pushed the idea of going to Kentucky even more,” Wyatt added.
To his surprise, his parents told him to get ready for a long drive.
“Rushed with joy I swiftly packed my things,” he wrote. “It was about a 2,000 mile car ride and 30 hour drive nonstop.”
Wyatt spent the days attending school remotely in Kentucky.
“But after school, it was like summer,” he wrote. “I would go boating on the lake, shooting guns, off roading, and just having a good time. There was never a dull moment.”
To Wyatt, his mother said, Kentucky was freedom.
The freedom to roam.
Summer came. And one day, he was roaming when he came across the beaten truck that enthralled him.
That truck was too worn down even for the love-struck Wyatt to get motoring, however.
But then his family found the classic Ford that would become Elmer T. Lee.
Evan Conrad, who sold the truck to the Eddy family, described Wyatt as “giddy” when he first saw it.
“He kind of gave everything away,” Conrad said. “There’s really no negotiation that he could have done. I knew the truck was sold.”
Wendy Eddy, however, wasn’t initially sold on the truck.
But Terry Bradigan – Wendy Eddy’s father and Wyatt’s grandfather – encouraged her to buy the truck.
“My dad said, ‘You understand, if you don’t buy this truck,’” Wendy Eddy said, “‘he’s gonna go home and find a drifting car, something that goes fast.’”
Wendy, alarmed at the prospect of Wyatt behind the wheel of a fast car, came to a conclusion: The truck was perfect.
Bradigan, Wyatt’s loving Kentucky grandfather, never understood the teen’s passion for the old, rusty Ford.
“He would have slept with it if he could, he said, “but I have no idea what attracted him; maybe it was ‘cause it was his first car.
“Never seen anybody,” Bradigan added, “go that crazy with a car.”
He dreamed of shipping it back to California, driving it to the Redondo Beach Marina and showing it off to his friends at the Cruise at the Beach classic car show — a weekly summertime event to which Wyatt had religiously rode his bike on Fridays pre-pandemic.
Wyatt spent some time in Kentucky working on his new love.
While doing so, he discovered an old Elmer T. Lee bourbon bottle, a Kentucky liquor, that functioned as the radiator overflow.
The bottle inspired Wyatt. His truck would have a name: Elmer T. Lee.
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But then it was back to school.
When the 2021-22 academic year began, Wyatt entered West High School.
The freshman was big for his age, boasting size 13 shoes. He was bigger than his friends. He was chosen as the goalie on the hockey team, his mother said, “because nothing would get by him.”
But he was also a sweet teen, one who was often described as a “gentle giant,” his mother said. His friends called him their bodyguard.
“Because nobody would mess with them,” Wendy Eddy said. “And not that he got into fights or anything. He was just bigger.”
He was also intelligent.
“He won the fifth-grade science fair. He was in the second-grade,” his father, David Eddy, said. “He was on the West High robotics team in the seventh-grade. He was just a bright kid.”
On his most-recent report card, he had straight As and Es – for exceptional effort.
Wyatt built computers for his friends and helped teachers with technical issues. He flew drones and was working to get his pilot’s license.
Wyatt, channeling his inner Kentuckian, also had a knack for striking up a conversation with anyone.
One night, for example, Wyatt was out late with several friends. They were playing tag at Anza Elementary, where they all attended kindergarten together, when the police arrived.
All the boys, except Wyatt, grabbed their skateboards and fled. Wyatt had biked there, so he had to find an alternate route.
The boys were ready to head out and were waiting for Wyatt to meet them.
“He calls us and he’s like, ‘Where are you guys? I’m with the cop right now,’” Nate Newhart, one of those friends, recalled. “And then we went back over. And Wyatt was just hanging out with a cop, talking to him and he made this friend.”
Wyatt’s best friend, though, was his older brother, Wade Eddy.
“Everything Wade did or said, Wyatt did,” David Eddy said. “But the older they got, the more reciprocal it became. Wade really admired Wyatt’s skill and hard work.”
Wade Eddy, 19, said he was never bothered by his brother’s admiration for him.
“Growing up,” he said, “it was really like always having your best friend around.”
Even Wyatt’s interest in vintage cars was sparked by his brother’s own fascination. As soon as Wade Eddy got a 1972 Volkswagen bus, Wyatt also wanted classic wheels.
“When I got the bus, he immediately was like, ‘OK, no. I can’t sit still,’” Wade Eddy said. “And he was only 14 and that’s all he talked about.”
It was Wyatt’s big brother who was with him when tragedy struck.
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Wade Eddy sat in Elmer T. Lee on a recent Monday and turned the key.
The engine cranked repeatedly. It took a few tries to turn over.
Finally, the truck’s engine roared.
Wade Eddy, rather than the brother who gave the old, rickety truck its name, drove down Torrance Boulevard.
Wade Eddy used his whole body to turn Elmer – decorated on the inside with four aging, red Tennessee license plates – left down Victor Street, toward West High.
As he passed the high school, where Wyatt was meant to be finishing up his freshman year, Wade Eddy waved to students getting out of class. He nodded to those in their cars.
Behind the wheel, Wade Eddy talked about Wyatt’s newfound interest in surfing – long a pastime for the big brother.
“When I came back (from college for the first time), he’s like, ‘All right, let’s go surfing,’” Wade Eddy said. “I think he was trying to convince me to come home more, so it was definitely a way for us to bond.”
On Sept. 24, a Friday, the brothers got up at 6 a.m. to go surfing.
The two hopped in Wade Eddy’s Volkswagen bus. They headed for The Avenues in Torrance, the elder brother’s favorite spot for teaching others to surf.
Once there, Wyatt, on his new surfboard, struggled a bit. He had never caught a wave before. Wade Eddy gave him a little push and Wyatt got to his feet.
“No, that doesn’t count,” Wyatt said, according to his brother. “You pushed me into the wave. That doesn’t count.”
Wyatt tried again.
His big brother didn’t help him — but Wyatt caught the wave.
“Just the smile on his face and the accomplishment you could see in his demeanor as he hopped off and paddled back down,” Wade Eddy said. “You can kind of see him thinking, ‘I’m the big man on campus now.’ Like, ‘Yeah, I can surf now.’”
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In the end, it wasn’t a fast car Wendy Eddy had to fear. It was the ocean.
Later that day, after Wyatt caught his first wave, the brothers headed over to Doheny State Beach, where the family was attending the Ohana Music Festival.
While their parents rocked, the brothers surfed.
All it took was one powerful swell.
“Wyatt caught the first wave on his new board,” his mother said.
But he fell.
And, unknown to him, his mother said, there was a shallow sandbar. Wyatt hit his head.
His neck snapped.
When Wade Eddy saw his little brother facedown in the sand, he thought it was a trick. Wyatt was a known jokester.
“He went over to him,” Wendy Eddy said, “and said, ‘Stop messing around.’”
Wade Eddy turned Wyatt over. Something, he knew, was wrong.
Wyatt could only mutter:
“I can’t move.”
The big brother carried Wyatt up the beach. Wyatt had lost consciousness.
Soon after, Wendy and David Eddy, still at the concert, got the call. They ran to the beach.
Wendy Eddy rode in the ambulance with Wyatt during the 12-minute trip to the hospital. Wyatt’s airway was blocked and the paramedics were only able to get it about 7% open.
At the hospital, doctors resuscitated him in the trauma unit – but he never regained consciousness.
“Wyatt was without oxygen for too long,” Wendy Eddy said.
Her voice shook.
“He never,” she added, “he never came back.”
Seven days later, Wyatt was dead.
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Wyatt’s influence lives on.
The teen – who had two funerals, including one in Kentucky — donated his organs, saving several other lives.
“We knew that being the helpful one, Wyatt would be a donor,” Wendy Eddy said. “He donated and every organ was viable, even his heart, even though it stopped.”
The family donated Wyatt’s organs through OneLegacy Foundation. In November, the family received a letter from the foundation detailing who received his organs.
Wyatt’s left kidney and pancreas went to a man in his 50s. His right kidney to a teenage girl. His lungs to a man in his 60s. His heart to a different man in his 60s. And his liver to a man in his 30s.
The man who received Wyatt’s liver wrote a letter to the Eddy family recently. The man is a father of three who understands grief, he wrote. He and his family had been grieving: They didn’t think he was going to survive.
“Wyatt saved his life,” Wendy Eddy said.
When Conrad, the man who sold Elmer T. Lee to the Eddy family, learned of Wyatt’s death, he took to Facebook to share his grief.
“He was so young and full of life,” Conrad wrote in the FORD F100 WORLD Facebook group, “and called and texted me constantly about his truck.”
The post circulated widely, eventually reaching the computer screen of Erick Light, creator of the documentary short series, “Rust Bucket Rembrandts.”
Light knew Wyatt’s story was one worth telling.
The film series features stories of classic cars and their strong connections with those who keep them in the family and on the road.
Wyatt’s story will be the second episode in the series. When it will be ready remains uncertain, Light said, but it might be the most important one he ever tells.
“It exemplifies the connection of cars with families,” Light said. “But more importantly, it’s about this great kid that the community rallies around.
“And hopefully,” he added, “it shines a ray of light on all the pain surrounding his loss.”
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In January, Wyatt’s classic car dreams came true.
About 100 vintage cars ringed the parking lot in front of the former Ruby’s Diner in Redondo Beach.
Elmer T. Lee sat among them.
As vintage car owners drove past Elmer, they revved their engines.
It was a tribute to a boy and the truck he loved.
Light, after hearing Wyatt’s story, reached out to the Eddy family and Cruise at the Beach founder Darryl Boyd to pull the tribute together in a matter of days.
They initially hoped to get a dozen vintage car owners to attend. They ended up with nearly eight times that amount.
Having Elmer T. Lee at the heart would have thrilled Wyatt, his brother said.
“Me and Wyatt would have just loved it here,” Wade Eddy said, “and could spend hours and hours and hours here just talking to everybody.”
Wyatt’s father, David Eddy, said he was humbled by how many people came to pay their respects — many of them strangers.
The car show, he said, offered an epiphany and a reminder of how losing a loved one often remains — even after weeks of grieving — inconceivable.
As the father arrived at the marina, rounding a corner, he overheard a conversation.
Folks were walking by and talking about a 14-year-old kid, David Eddy said. A teen who died.
“I realized,” he said, “they were talking about my son.”
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Elmer T. Lee remains with the Eddy family.
Working on the truck, Wendy Eddy said, is like therapy for the family.
The family plans to do minimal updates to the truck, however. They might try to carry out some of what Wyatt planned, perhaps a new paint job and wood bed.
But Wendy Eddy’s not so sure about the paint.
“He loved the rust,” she said. “He didn’t want to change its character.”
Wade Eddy, his mother said, plans to drive Elmer down to the Redondo Beach Marina in the summers for Cruise at the Beach.
And there will be road trips in Elmer’s future. Perhaps the ones Wyatt never got to take.
Perhaps Elmer T. Lee, one day, will even end up in Cadiz, Kentucky, the rural town Wyatt loved — and where his love affair began.
And the place where Wyatt is buried.
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