Kris Cotton’s mom, sister bring his ashes and dog back home
LAKE CLEAR — On Sunday afternoon, a small private plane landed on the rain-soaked tarmac at the Adirondack Regional Airport. Jenda Cotton and her daughter Jessica LaFever soon disembarked, Jessica carrying a small wooden box containing the ashes of her brother Kristopher Cotton, who was killed in South Carolina on Aug. 31 while bicycling across the country.
Also coming down the steps was Kris’s dog Ava, a 7-year-old brown Lab-pit bull mix who survived the crash that killed Kris.
Ava’s bandages were visible, as were some wounds that are still healing from the crash, but she was in high spirits, wagging her tail and gamboling as much as her leash would allow — apparently happy to be on the ground.
After the rest of those on the plane disembarked, Ava went over to nuzzle the pilot, Lee Richards, who is also the owner of the Phenom 300 jet. Richards, a venture capitalist in Charleston, South Carolina, had read about the crash, and that Cotton and LaFever had driven down and were planning on driving back. He offered to fly them home to Saranac Lake himself instead.
“As a dog lover, I felt I could help,” said Richards. “I just felt like a really long car ride would be hard.”
Kristopher Cotton, 36, had been on a bicycle trip from his hometown of Saranac Lake to the Florida Keys, cycling with his dog Ava in a trailer behind the bike, when he was struck and killed by a vehicle on Savannah Highway in Adams Run, South Carolina, outside of Charleston. Kris died at the scene of the crash. Ava was taken by animal control officers to Charleston Animal Society, a no-kill shelter in North Charleston.
“They were unsure if she was going to make it,” said Kay Hyman, director of community engagement at the shelter, who flew to Saranac Lake with the dog. “She was extremely lucky.” Hyman said Kris and Ava had been hit by a vehicle going 70 miles an hour.
Ava had a broken jaw, swelling in her brain, bleeding in her lungs and stomach, lacerations and a haematoma in her ear. She was stabilized and treated for her injuries at the shelter, then eventually went home with Hyman until Cotton could come and get her. In the interim, Hyman and Jenda Cotton Facetimed, and Ava came to work with Hyman, staying with her in her office as the dog recovered.
Hyman praised Jenda, saying that many pets in similar circumstances go unclaimed even when their owners are local, much less those who live a thousand miles away.
Jenda, who works at Adirondack Park Pet Hospital during the day and at Subway in the evenings, described how she found out her son had died on the night of Aug. 31.
“I’d just served the troopers sandwiches,” she said. Those same state troopers came to her house later to notify her of her son’s death in South Carolina.
Ten days later, on Thursday, Sept. 10, Jenda Cotton and her daughter drove 17 hours down to Charleston to bring back both Kris’s ashes and his dog.
In South Carolina they held a memorial service for Kris near where he’d been killed. The first responders who’d been called to the scene of the accident were there. A wooden memorial bears Kris’s name and the date of his death, as well as a small bicycle and a photograph of Kris and Ava.
Then they heard of Richards’ offer for a ride home.
“She (Ava) was on the floor in the middle of the plane,” said Richards on the Adirondack Regional Airport tarmac. Commercial flights require that dogs are secured, but private flights have more freedom, and Richards, who frequently flies with his own dogs, likes to let them lie on the floor. He and his wife had brought biscuits for Ava and sunflowers for Jenda before they took off in South Carolina. Richards, who had flown in from Denver that morning, would be flying back to South Carolina that same day. A pilot with 40 years of flight experience, he said this was the first time he’s ever done anything like this.
“I’ve never seen such wonderful people,” Jenda said as she prepared to drive home with her daughter and Ava.
Another memorial service for Kris will be held sometime next year, giving Ava time to recover from her injuries and the country, hopefully, to recover from the pandemic. Jenda asks that anyone wishing to help can donate to cover the cost of Ava’s care to the Charleston Animal Society, www.charlestonanimalsociety.org/donate.