ALPINE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A dark wooden cross sits near the corner of 4 Mile Road and Baumhoff Avenue in Alpine Township. Over the last four months, it has been decorated with hats, flowers, wreaths, flags and just about anything else that reminds friends and family of Cable Butkus.
The 18-year-old was killed in a late-night single-car crash on Nov. 7, 2020.
“It was just shock. The whole day was a whirlwind of shock,” Jennifer Clark, Butkus’ mom, said. “Even though he’s gone, I know he’s still with me. And I would like people to hear his side of the story of how faithful and how good of a person he was.”
His parents say Butkus was a man of great convictions. He was fiercely loyal and he loved deeply: his family, his friends and his truck all felt that.
Butkus was the oldest of three boys. He was their great protector. He would take them to breakfast on Saturday and church on Sunday.
“He was a momma’s boy,” Clark said. “You know, ‘Hold me, Mom. Rub my hair, Mom. I’m gonna fall asleep on your lap.’ So, you know, he was just a mama’s boy. An 18-year-old man-child is what I called him.”
His dad John Butkus said his son also liked to go fast in just about anything he was driving. He said that if his son had been driving his truck on that November night, he might still be with them. Instead, he was driving a replica of the car John Butkus owned when he first started dating Clark, a Toyota Celica.
“He loved that,” John Butkus said “Taught himself how to drive a manual so he could drive that car and then went way too fast and wrecked it.”
Cable Butkus’ friends bought the wood for the cross and put it in the ground on the Sunday after the crash.
Four months later, three of them laugh as they reminisce about Butkus’ love for his 1996 Ford F-250 Super Duty. It’s what he was known for. It was beaten up, rusty and loud.
“There’s a lot to say about the truck,” Max Pacific, Butkus’ friend, laughed. “He would show this truck off like it was a $100,000 truck and take pride in it.”
Etched in the side of it are the names of Butkus’s friends, a reminder of the energy and life he brought to their lives.
“I think everyone could agree he was one of everyone’s best friends. Always the life of the party,” Pacific said. “He was the type of person you want to be friends with.”
Most of those strong bonds were forged through that F-250. Butkus often offered to fill it with pallets for bonfires, give you a ride if you needed one, or drive it to one of the many truck meets he went to with his group of friends.
Now it is pieces and parts scattered outside of a large garage in Comstock Park. Butkus used to tell anyone who would listen to the plans he had for that truck. Some realistic; others, like running nitrous through it, not as much. But what everyone knew was that truck was going to be rebuilt and given to a person he loved: his brother Corbin.
“This truck was going to be his gift to his younger brother,” Clark said. “So he was trying to save money and make that happen.”
That’s a mission now in the hands of his friends. After Butkus died, it was a unanimous decision that they would finish the truck that he couldn’t. They have ripped out the cab and the bed and are working to replace it. It’s a total rebuild from the tires and shocks to the brakes and wiring harness. They even repainted the driveshaft and hope to install a lift and rebuild the engine. It’s a process that has helped with their healing.
“I feel like every time we work on it, we’re getting closer to him,” friend Jesse Schroeder said. “Feels like he’s sitting next to you telling you what to do next.”
It is more than just a truck for the friends and family of the man who once drove it. It is a body of life and memories. It’s a testament to loyalty, built through friendships, restored in a truck and passed down to a brother.
“There’s still a lot of work to get done before we’re there,” Schroeder said. “But just being able to turn that key and hear that motor run again, that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
The friends have started a GoFundMe account to help them cover the costs of the restoration.