Family, friends remember ‘dynamic’ teen

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published September 10, 2012

Julie Kumm was handling someone else’s trauma at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak Aug. 4 when she received the call about another that had occurred miles away — yet, in a sense, much closer to home.

Kumm’s 18-year-old daughter, Taylor Nitzh, sustained fatal injuries after her Mitsubishi Galant struck a curb and rolled near the Steak ‘n Shake on Lakeside Circle in Sterling Heights.

Nitzh was ejected, and the Galant struck a parked, unoccupied vehicle before coming to rest on the north end of the restaurant’s parking lot, according to Sterling Heights police.

A final police report is still pending, but police stated in a press release issued after the accident that speed, drugs and alcohol were all considered possible factors in the crash at that time. The speed limit is 30 mph on Lakeside Circle, the road ringing Lakeside Mall, and the release indicated that Nitzh was “driving in a reckless manner.”

But Kumm said that theory doesn’t mesh with the person her daughter had become.

Once considered an “at-risk” teen, Nitzh left Henry Ford II High School at age 16 to attend the Michigan Youth Challenge Academy in Battle Creek, where she thrived under the military school’s structure and discipline, said Kumm.

“She just turned her whole life around,” she said.

According to Kumm, those six months of two-minute showers, one-minute phone calls, 10 miles of daily running and other rigorous requirements changed her daughter. She emerged with her GED and college credits, which earned her a place — and a scholarship — at Macomb Community College at only 16, said Kumm.

Kumm said Nitzh was working through prerequisites at MCC and planned to study forensics and criminal justice, with the ultimate goal of joining the U.S. Air Force.

The family learned five days after the crash that she had been accepted into the military, her mother said.

Kumm said her daughter was restless, eager to work when she left the academy. She’d held two jobs for the last few years, though she’d recently relinquished a longtime position at Chicken Delite due to her schedule at Steak ‘n Shake, where she worked midnights.

According to Kumm, Nitzh was on the clock at Steak ‘n Shake Aug. 4 and had left the building briefly to have a cigarette and move her car when the accident occurred just after 5 a.m. Managers at the store have declined to comment.

Kumm said she’s heard from multiple witnesses with conflicting accounts of what occurred. She also wonders if there were others present who saw what transpired, but avoided police out of a desire to protect themselves for some reason.

She said there was at least one witness for certain: A man who held Nitzh’s hand and prayed over her until paramedics arrived.

Kumm also questions whether mechanical problems played a role, as the Galant had recently been serviced.

“Honestly, I’m still looking for answers,” she said. But as far as the possibility of drugs or alcohol, she insisted, “Since military school, this is totally out of her character.”

Kumm said there were 600 people at Nitzh’s funeral, including cadets she befriended at Challenge Academy, some of whom traveled from out of state to attend.

When Gift of Life approached relatives at the hospital to ask if they’d be willing to donate Nitzh’s organs, they said yes: “She’s 18; she’s healthy; it would be a waste not to,” said Kumm. But as they later learned, Nitzh had actually joined the organ donor registry on her 18th birthday of her own accord, she added.

Since the accident, Kumm said, many people have shared uplifting stories with her about their interactions with Nitzh.

“There’s more I found out about my daughter — on a good level — that I didn’t even know while she was living,” she said.

Katelyn Spurrier, who worked with Nitzh at Steak ‘n Shake, said her friend “was truly an angel, full of excitement and always ready for the next challenge.”

“She worked two jobs and rarely did anything but work,” she said in an email. “She loved her mom; we talked about how she looked up to her, and how much she was family-oriented. If anything, she was the hardest worker I know.”

As owner of Chicken Delite, Don Douglas was Nitzh’s boss for three years and even held her job for her while she attended Challenge Academy.

“She grew up here, like a lot of kids have,” he said. “Someone like Taylor … what a dynamic, bright young lady. Not many people you come across just have the whole package. She just ‘got it’ in life. She was aware of things, knew what was going on and how to get there. Not many people have that ability.”

Weeks after her death, a fundraiser flier and a remembrance card from Nitzh’s funeral still hung at the restaurant on Hayes, and Douglas said many regulars who spotted the miniature memorial remembered her. One customer even burst into tears upon learning of Nitzh’s passing.

A firefighter of more than two decades in Troy, Douglas said he’s seen it all; yet, this incident still feels surreal.

“I still shake my head,” he said. “It’s one of those things you can’t ever — you can’t believe it happened. It’s so darn preventable. It’s hard to believe that somebody so dynamic — that this would happen.”