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Shelby Sudbrink: The call no parent can imagine and every parent fears

With a teenage driver on the brink of licensehood, I followed the recent death of Shelby Sudbrink with a newfound sense of urgency and trepidation.

Sudbrink, a happy-go-lucky 17-year-old from Atascadero with a luminous smile, was killed in a car crash on Jan. 6.

She was on her way to pick up a friend for a day at the beach on a Friday morning near the end of winter break. It’s not clear what happened, but she lost control of her Toyota 4Runner on a curvy stretch of Templeton Road and crashed into a tree.

I can’t imagine what followed, how her family was notified or what they’ve had to go through over the past week.

It is truly a parent’s worst nightmare.

But, somehow, the Sudbrinks are moving through it with resolve and dignity, while keeping the focus on all their happy memories of Shelby.

On Monday, they were the picture of grace, sitting down with a Tribune reporter and photographer to share stories.

The best one was from Colby, Shelby’s 12-year-old brother, who recalled how his devious sister conned him onto a scary ride at the Mid-State Fair by saying it didn’t go that fast.

When it turned out her evaluation of the attraction didn’t exactly jibe with his own, he protested to her afterward.

Her response: “I lied.”

The punchline sent chuckles and smiles around the other family members in the room.

The next day, the Templeton High School basketball team played its first game without its co-captain. The team welcomed 7-year-old Kiley onto the court in her sister’s place during pre-game introductions, and then tipped off with only four players, leaving a spot vacant for Shelby — both classy moves on the team’s part.

At halftime, Shelby’s parents, Michael and Emily Sudbrink, took the microphone and addressed the crowd, thanking the community for its love and support.

Honestly, I don’t know how they’re keeping it together, and maybe the shock and pain are still sinking in, easing one moment, back cruelly and severely the next.

I imagine each time they hear footsteps coming down the hall or a door opens, they half expect it to be Shelby.

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