As Dylan Hazelhurst drove from Colorado to Las Vegas on February 4, he was living his dream.
The 30-year-old was going to visit his exotic new pet store in Las Vegas – the second location for his business that was finally taking off. His rescue parrot and three dogs, Achilles, Sienna and Annie, who was just a puppy, were with him in his 2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. He would soon be asking his girlfriend to marry him.
He was about 50 miles from Las Vegas when a wrong driver hit his van head-on. Hazelhurst and the other driver, Rayanne May Walters, 39, of Logandale, both died at the scene.
“He was a really good soul,” Hazelhurst’s mother Debbie Hazelhurst said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. âMaybe these are the ones God takes early. I don’t understand why, because he was only 30 years old.
Nevada Highway Patrol soldiers were called into the crash at around 9:25 p.m. on February 4 on Interstate-15 near Moapa. Investigators believe Walters, who was driving a 2004 Toyota Tacoma, was heading north on the southbound lanes of the freeway when it crashed into Hazelhurst, a native of Grand Junction, Colorado.
Highway Patrol spokesman Travis Smaka said Tuesday the agency is still investigating the causes of the crash, adding that investigators are awaiting toxicology reports to determine whether impairment was a factor.
Debbie Hazelhurst said knowing how the accident happened would provide answers, but “nothing will bring our son back”.
Walters’ family did not respond to a request for comment. In a brief phone call Tuesday, a woman who identified herself as Walters’ mother said: “She was a beautiful person.”
A love for animals
Hazelhurst’s dogs, Annie and Achilles, and her 45-year-old yellow-breasted Amazon parrot, Fred, were also killed in the crash. Debbie Hazelhurst, who also lives in Grand Junction, Colo., Said she and her husband went to the crash site to locate Fred’s body, so her deceased son’s pets can be cremated with him.
Dylan Hazelhurst’s only surviving pet Sienna now lives with his girlfriend. The family started calling her “Sienna Angel” because she had no scratches on her after the accident, Debbie Hazelhurst said.
Hazelhurst grew up loving animals, her mother said. As a child, he wandered with his pet dog, hunting lizards, snakes and scorpions. He âlived and breathedâ the Discovery Channel, and Steve Irwin was his hero.
âHe spoke about it forever in his life – that one day he was going to do something with animals,â said Debbie Hazelhurst. “That’s all he ever wanted to do.”
In 2013, Dylan Hazelhurst launched his business Crocodile Reef, which initially focused on installing custom fish and reptile aquariums. The business has grown to include an exhibit of reptiles and exotic animals, popular with excursions and children’s birthday parties.
Through his work, Hazelhurst befriended Ken Foose, who opened his Exotic Pets store in Las Vegas in 1991. When Foose passed away in September, Hazelhurst did not want his death to leave a permanent hole in her life. Las Vegas’ exotic animal community, Debbie says Hazelhurst.
So Dylan Hazelhurst took over the Exotic Pets space, hosting a grand opening for his second Crocodile Reef location in November, his mother said. He spent weeks in Las Vegas and was considering moving to that state.
Throughout his life, the 30-something has owned snakes, lizards, iguanas, tarantulas, insects and wallabies. While the animals took up most of his time, âthere wasn’t much he hadn’t tried,â said Debbie Hazelhurst. His son raced go-karts in Italy, jumped from a plane as a parachutist, and volunteered to ride a live bull.
He traveled frequently and Debbie Hazelhurst has spent the past few weeks offering greetings from people across the United States, some of whom have only met her son once, but never forgot his kindness.
“He was the goofy guy, he was the one who made everyone laugh,” said Debbie Hazelhurst, adding that his death had left “a void” in the family.
“He lived the dream”
Dylan Hazelhurst knew his parents were worried when he made long car trips, and he was keen to stay in touch, his mother said. She last heard his voice about an hour before the crash – she wanted to call and see how far he was from the Las Vegas Valley.
She and her husband went to bed shortly after, expecting to wake up with a text from their son. But there was no notification the next morning. Then came a call from the Clark County Coroner’s office.
âIt was just awful,â said Debbie Hazelhurst. “It’s still awful.”
She knew that her son was aware that his long car journeys could turn out to be tragic. About a month before the accident, her son sat her down and told her that if anything happened to her, he wanted her parents to keep his business going.
So that’s what Debbie Hazelhurst is doing. She and her husband, who already run the Colorado store, look after the animals and work with their son’s employees.
After bouncing back and forth between odd jobs, Crocodile Reef didn’t really “take off” until last year, said Debbie Hazelhurst. But she is happy that her son has never given up on his goals.
âHe lived the dream he spoke of,â she said.