The kindergartner, who was killed on Wednesday in an accident on the Baltimore Beltway, was recognized as much for his spirit as for his family ties — nephew of a former gubernatorial aide, classmate of children of a school board member, the chief mayoral spokesman and a city councilman.
"This is a very sad day for our family," Jake's uncle, Steve Kearney, wrote in an email, explaining that closer relatives were too distraught to talk. "Jake was a great little guy, and it's still hard to believe this has happened. We'll miss him."
Maryland State Police said the accident occurred about 3 p.m. Wednesday on lanes leading from northbound Interstate 83 to the inner loop of Interstate 695. Police said a sport utility vehicle rear-ended a sedan occupied by the Owen family, causing a chain-reaction accident involving two other vehicles.
James Owen and his 9-year-old daughter, Alexandra, were recovering Thursday from their injuries at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Alexandra suffered a broken leg, and James Owen needs surgery on his shoulder. His wife was not injured.
The driver of the SUV was identified by police as Devin Xavier McKeiver, 23, who lives on Ruxton Avenue in West Baltimore near Coppin State University. Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said Thursday that he has not received the final police report, which could take days or weeks.
Maryland State Police reconstructed the accident Thursday afternoon. Authorities said Wednesday that preliminary test results indicated that the driver of the SUV was speeding.
McKeiver has no criminal driving record, according to the state court system. He was treated at a hospital and released Wednesday night. A woman who answered the door at his house declined to comment.
Jake Owen's father, known as "Spike," is a restaurant consultant. He helped take over the Baltimore Brewing Co., which had gained a popular following for its German-style beers, after it suddenly closed in 2002. His wife, Susan, works in corporate communications.
David Stone, a member of the Baltimore City school board, said his two sons, 8-year-old Henry and 5-year-old Leo, knew Jake through the public Federal Hill Preparatory School. Stone said he sat the boys down Thursday morning while on vacation in Colorado and told them the news.
"My oldest son just kept saying how unfair it was," Stone said. "I was trying to explain to him that sometimes bad things happen to really good people. It's difficult. We socialized with the kids at the same pool, at the same parties, at the soccer league.
"It's a pretty tight circle," Stone said. "We are parents very committed to making this city a livable space. When good things happen, we get to share that. When bad things happen, we have to share that, too. We are trying to make sense out of something that does not make sense."
Kearney, Jake's uncle, runs a public affairs firm in downtown Baltimore. He served briefly as a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and was a pivotal figure in helping Martin O'Malley as he went from the City Council to the mayor's office to the governor's chair in Annapolis. Kearney left the O'Malley administration in 2008 to join KO Public Affairs.
Jake was also friends with chief Baltimore mayoral spokesman Ryan O'Doherty's son, Colin, and with City Councilman William H. Cole IV's 6-year-old son, Will, who both attend Federal Hill Preparatory.
Cole's wife, Michelle, and Jake's father coached the soccer team that Jake and Will played on. The children were also fixtures at the Otterbein Swim Club.
They're part of a core group of about two dozen families who "have raised our kids together" in and around Federal Hill, said Cole. "Jake's family was very much a part of that group. It's hard to put this into words.
"These are kids that are all part of our same social circle," added Cole, who lives in the Otterbein and last saw Jake two weeks ago while shopping at a drugstore. "He was just the sweetest little boy. It's hard for me to believe that a kid that young won't have an opportunity."