Ray and Dorothy Dixon looked up from their backyard pool where they were playing with their granddaughters Sunday to see an emergency helicopter fly overhead.
They had heard about the wreck on Auburn Road — within a mile from their home outside Grass Valley — that afternoon.
But it would be hours before they learned that the driver was Collin Dickey — the boy they brought into their family after he was abandoned in the rain one day after Christmas, four years earlier.
Dickey, a recent Nevada Union High School graduate, died as a result of injuries sustained in that Sunday accident.
It was only after personnel from Sutter Roseville Medical Center connected Dickey’s place of residence with Dorothy Dixon’s, based on records from her recent minor surgery, that the family learned the tragic news.
“Nobody came to the house,” said Ray Dixon. “I’m still dumbfounded that no law officer has come to notify us. Someone dropped the ball.”
The disconnect stems from Dickey’s 18th birthday in March, which made him a legal adult and stripped the Dixons of their legal guardianship, even though the young man still lived under their roof.
Even managing Dickey’s remains has proved problematic because the Dixons technically aren’t Dickey’s next of kin. A memorial service has yet to be scheduled.
The Dixons had been close to Dickey before they brought him home for good — caring for him since he was very little, picking him up from day care and school, including him in the family’s Christmases and other events, they said.
He even referred to Ray Dixon as “Papa Ray.”
“He called me that two days before he died,” Dixon said. “We were real, real close.”
But one year, Dickey wasn’t dropped off at the Dixon home for the holiday festivities as planned. Two days later he called, asking for a place to stay.
When Dixon picked up the then 14-year-old boy, he was wearing dirty clothes and had only a trash bag of possessions, he said.
“He stayed here and became one of the family,” said Dorothy Dixon.
The family garnered temporary custody of Dickey, which would morph into permanent custody within a few months.
“We were empty nesters,” said Ray Dixon. “Collin was a great diversion. … We had no idea it would evolve into a permanent thing.”
The Dixons made the boy feel at home, furnishing a room with a television, gaming console and computer. They even remodeled a bathroom dedicated to him and took him on vacations to Disneyland and Maui.
“For a long time, he wouldn’t bring friends over here,” said Dorothy Dixon, noting a change in the last year.
“Since graduation, it has been a lot more relaxed,” she said.
The family drove Dickey to school until his 18th birthday in March, citing issues with insurance. But once he was an adult, they gave him a Toyota Matrix and put it in his name, insurance and all.
Ray Dixon cautioned Dickey about the Auburn Road corner near Archery Way, which is where he crashed head-on into a truck Sunday.
One of the Dixon’s biological children, Matt Dixon, once rear-ended a truck that had hit a deer on that same corner.
“Kids speed up and down that road,” Dixon said. “Collin knew it was a bad place. We explained it to him.”
Dickey was on his way home from work at Suds Bros. Car Wash. Despite wearing his seat belt, he was ejected from his vehicle, the California Highway Patrol determined.
“It comes and goes in waves,” Ray Dixon said of his grief. “She will be crying, then I’ll be crying, just like when anyone loses a child. That’s what happened — we lost a child.”
Dickey was a smart boy, though his grades weren’t the best way to gauge his intelligence, the Dixons said.
Without children’s books, he taught himself to read using the The Union newspaper, the Dixons said. He would also go on to teach himself to keyboard on both computers and piano.
In high school, he would tell the Dixons not to worry about his mid-term failing grades because he had no intention of pursuing college. By semester’s end, he’d pull his grades up enough to pass.
“He just didn’t apply himself in class,” Dorothy Dixon said.
But Dickey excelled in choir. He was a member of the Nevada Union’s compline and chamber choir that both traveled to Baltics in April to perform.
“It was one of the things that kept him there,” said Matt Dixon.
In lieu of flowers, the Dixons ask that donations be made to the Nevada Union Choir Boosters at P.O. Box 744, Grass Valley, CA 95945.
“He loved to sing. He sang around the house,” said Dorothy Dixon. “He was a great singer.”
Dickey’s interest in music went beyond melody or lyrics, the Dixons said.
The young man would learn a song’s origins, purpose and impact and enjoyed exploring such aspects.
Dickey was also “more than a casual fan” of the San Francisco Giants baseball program, said Matt Dixon. He absorbed stats of every player and even kept track of the team’s minor league branch.
Dickey also loved Nevada County’s outdoors, spending summer days at the river with friends and planning to spend his first winter after high school living with his close friends near Sugar Bowl and working at the ski resort.
Instead, the Dixons will drive by the spot where Dickey died every time they go to town.
As of Thursday, the location was still strewn with car pieces and broken glass, but a United States flag adorned the nearby fence behind a cross placed in the ground of Auburn Road’s ditch, surrounded by flowers, candles and mementos of Dickey.
“For us, it is not a downer yet. For us, it is inspiration,” Ray Dixon said. “We feel honored he had that many friends.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.