850 gather for teen’s memorial

Friends and family remember Bubba Kapko’s life and faith at a service held Saturday morning.

By Andrew Edwards
Daily Pilot
September 4, 2005

The size of the crowd was a tribute to Brian “Bubba” Kapko’s life.

About 850 people joined Kapko’s family at the Newport Mesa Christian Center on Saturday for a memorial service to remember the former Estancia High School football standout.

But the gridiron was only one part of the young man’s 19 years. Beyond sports, Kapko was honored for his friendships and deep religious faith.

“I look back on his life; he was an eagle,” said Brian Stair, youth leader at Harbor Light Church. “He was an Eagle Scout. He was an Estancia Eagle.”

“He would swoop down, and he had, to me, a Christ-like character because he hung around with everybody,” Stair said.

Kapko graduated from Estancia High School in 2004. After high school, he left Costa Mesa for Denver to study at Johnson & Wales University. Kapko died after a car crash Aug. 28. Kapko, his best friend, Kris Hartwell, and three other friends were on their way to Denver after a volleyball tournament in Boulder. 

Kapko and his buddies were traveling in a Toyota 4Runner when the sport-utility vehicle and another vehicle were hit by the driver of an allegedly stolen red Honda that was being chased by police.

Kapko was the only person killed in the collision, which occurred in Arvada, Colo. Arvada Police spokeswoman Susan Medina said the two men in the Honda, 20-year-old Matthew Wartena of Arvada and a 16-year-old, were arrested on suspicion of several crimes, including murder with extreme indifference to human life.

Kris Hartwell’s mother, Cathi Hartwell, was one of several people who stood before the gathering to put their memories into words.

“The people in this room today are witness to how infectious Bubba could be,” Cathi Hartwell said. “Bubba’s zest for life and the impression he left on all of us is his tribute…. Bubba gave us a rare gift and it is that gift we have to leave here today with.”

“Just picture this,” she added. “Bubba’s smile looking down upon us from heaven. Close your eyes and hear his laugh and feel his ever-encompassing hug. Take that with you today, and keep it in your heart.”

One young man who spoke in front of the mourners testified to Kapko’s steadfastness, saying, “This man stood by me with every obstacle we faced with an unwavering loyalty.”

A young woman recalled Kapko’s sense of humor, telling the crowd, “He was always a jokester, making everyone laugh.”

At the beginning of the service, pastor Rick Francis attested to Kapko’s fun-loving personality. He suggested to Kapko’s loved ones that the 19-year-old was “probably bearhugging angels.”

“He would want this occasion to be a celebration. He would want you to laugh. He would want you to have fun,” Francis said.

At times, the sounds of laughter punctuated the service, breaking through a palpable sense of grief. One instance was at the beginning of a video tribute to Kapko’s life. The montage opened with a screen heralding the young man’s birthday with a title declaring that Feb. 26, 1986, was the day “A Bubba is born.” A series of photographs followed that showed Kapko’s growth from a chubby infant to the teenager who was named the MVP of the Estancia Eagles football team during his senior year.

Those who attended the service were told that Kapko recently declared he did not fear the end of life.

“I’m not afraid of death because the people that are, they are just not one with God,” Kapko once said. The quote was printed on a bulletin that was handed to people at the service.

After the service, Kapko’s older brother, Matt Kapko, said Bubba Kapko strove to be near to God for much of his 19 years.

“His faith was very strong. He got it at a very early age, and it grew with him,” Matt Kapko said.