Surrounded by friends and family, Aaron Culpepper gave his final gift the day after Christmas.
Doctors declared the 23-year-old Coeur d’Alene man brain-dead Friday morning. They took him off life-support a few hours later after removing his organs for donation.
“He was just a bright spot that comes along,” said John Rook, a family friend and roommate.
“You don’t see them like him very often. He was always one to leave someone in a better spirit than when he found them.”
Culpepper was critically injured last Saturday morning in a snowboarding accident at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. He rode over a rock on the second run of the day at the Sandpoint resort and tumbled head-first into another rock.
A helicopter flew the experienced snowboarder to Kootenai Medical Center with massive head, back and chest injuries. He was snowboarding with his brother and two others on the upper portion of Kaniksu run he fell.
Snow that was falling Saturday morning probably hid the rock Culpepper tripped on. He had been in intensive care since the accident.
Friends and family gathered all week at the hospital. They left messages in a notebook hoping their words would help Culpepper recover.
“It’s just overwhelming the amount of friends he had,” brother Kevin Culpepper said earlier this week.
Culpepper lived with Rook for the past year. The two shared many laughs, the last a few minutes before Culpepper left Saturday morning for Schweitzer.
Culpepper had told Rook the night before that he planned to go snowboarding, but not to worry about waking him up. He was setting his alarm.
“I waited and waited until about 5 after 7, and when I didn’t hear anything from him I went in,” Rook said. “As soon as I walked in he raised his head and said, ‘I heard it, I heard it.’ And, of course, the alarm never went off.”
Culpepper was scheduled to begin taking classes at North Idaho College next month. He had not decided what he wanted to study, but talked about working with animals.
A horse magazine recently interviewed him about horse training work he did this summer, Rook said.
“It was something that really interested him,” he said. “It was amazing the rapport he had with animals.”
Rook said Culpepper had recently begun playing rugby and loved most sports. Kevin Culpepper said his brother loved the freedom and individualism snowboarding offered.
Culpepper had recently told his mother, “This was the best year of his life,” Rook said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo