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A 'Chance' encounter

Family and friends gathered Tuesday to remember the late Chance Smith and dedicate two benches at the New Castle Action Sports Park, one in his honor and another in tribute to his skateboarding friends.

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

Navigating emotions seemed almost as tricky as doing an “ollie” or “grinding” a rail at the New Castle Action Sports Park Tuesday night.

A group of 30 or so family members and friends of the late Chancellor “Chance” Smith gathered for a bench dedication ceremony for the 23-year-old New Castle resident who died two years ago, a victim of a shooting incident.

Two benches – one in honor of Chance and another in tribute to his skateboarding friends – were dedicated on a chilly evening warmed by words about the popular youth.

The benches are part of 14 to be dedicated at various spots around New Castle, made from recycled plastic bottle caps that have been collected and sorted locally.

“Chance would be very proud that this skate park is here,” said his mother, Tanene Erb. “He worked along with his cousin Ethan, his cousin Zach, very hard for many years to get this here. It was an ongoing battle, probably over 10 years. This would mean the world to him.”

Patti Broyles, president of the New Castle Parks Board, remembered Chance was the first one to show up at an initial meeting on the project.

“He wore a sport coat that night to this meeting,” Broyles said. “He was a little antsy. He was the very first one there. He said ‘I’ve never been to one of these before.’ And I said, well, you could kind of tell. He kept saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re really going to do this.’”

In mid-August, 2017, the dreams of Chance and so many other skateboarding friends he loved came true. The new $275,000 facility was built primarily with food and beverage funds appropriated by the Henry County Council and a lot of in-kind support in the form of funds, labor and materials from the city, local businesses, individuals and the welding program students at the New Castle Career Center.

But Chance, who even offered to design the facility, never got to see it. 

He was called “an innocent bystander” during an early-morning shooting incident in the 6000 block of S. County Road 325 W., Spiceland, on Nov. 6, 2016.

Tyler J. Pennington, 28, Devin Asberry, 25, and Camron D. Perkins, 27, were arrested in relation to the shooting and are still awaiting trial. All three were charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, according to court records. Officials suspect that money, drugs and domestic relationships are the motives that prompted the altercation.

“Chance’s death was a tragedy,” his mother said at the bench dedication. “There’s a lot of stuff around our town right now that isn’t good, but Chance was just trying to help out a friend. He was an innocent bystander, so this means a lot to me because I don’t want him to be forgotten. He was a good person. He was a gentleman. He would be so proud to see the smiles here tonight.”

One by one, family members and friends took turns speaking about Chance, often having trouble maintaining composure. He was called “a free spirit.”

Many of Chance’s family members attended and others were mentioned. His mother mentioned Ted Erb, Chance’s step-father, Charles Smith, his biological father, sisters Chealee Erb and Tanisha Erb, nephew Allik Wallace and uncles Tyrone Darren Jester along with Ethan Jester during her comments Tuesday night.

Chance’s mother recalled how he begged her to put a skatepark in their back yard.

“I was always on them because of where they could not skate,” she said.

Today, the New Castle Action Sports Park has been a most popular place, not only with local youth, but with some out-of-county residents who come here to try out the facility.

The park has significantly reduced the number of incidents involving skateboard enthusiasts enjoying their sport in places around town not intended for that purpose.

“As Mayor York said at our first meeting, ‘if you don’t have a skatepark, your entire city is a skatepark.’” Broyles said.