Youngstown explosion victim remembered as driven and community-oriented

No one ever accused Akil Drake of taking it easy, from his days as a football player at Penn Hills to his budding career in banking.

Drake relied on the work ethic his mother instilled in him to graduate from Youngstown State University with a bachelor’s degree in finance and rise through the ranks at JPMorgan Chase.

The life Drake had built for himself in Youngstown, Ohio, was cut short on May 28 when a natural gas explosion rocked the Chase Bank where he worked, killing him and injuring seven others. He was 27.

“It’s definitely very difficult to talk about him in the past tense,” said his sister, Traesha Pritchard.

The two grew up together in Penn Hills. After graduating from high school in 2015, Drake continued his education at Youngstown State and received his degree in 2019. He joined Chase in 2021 and, after about two years as an associate banker, earned a promotion to relationship banker.

Pritchard has also done well for himself, as assistant director of marketing services for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Drake always interpreted her success as friendly competition.

“If he could give me an edge when it came to school or goals, he would try,” Pritchard said.

In addition to business, Drake found love and friendship out of state, Pritchard added. After seven years of dating, he planned to marry Victoria Gonzalez.

“It’s not only a loss here at home, but also for the community he built for himself in Ohio,” Pritchard said.

Even after being out of state for nearly a decade, Drake remained connected to his hometown — and not just as a diehard Steelers fan.

Lee Davis, violence prevention program director for Braddock-based Greater Valley Community Services and Drake’s mentor, described him as someone who was always looking to help his community.

“He was a sponge. And of course we talked about a lot of things in life,” Davis said. “Never on the street, things like that, but he wanted to give something back like I am doing now.”

Davis said Drake was exploring how he, too, could lead at-risk youth to personal and professional prosperity.

Football was another mainstay of Drake’s life.

In a statement released after his death, Penn Hills School District called Drake a “student athlete who excelled on the football field.”

Once Drake entered college, he continued to invest in the game as part of Youngstown State’s football video staff. Mark Preto, who serves as crew coordinator, described Drake as a reliable, friendly worker with an infectious passion for football. Recording team practices or home games can be thankless work, he noted.

“If you ask someone to climb a 75-foot ladder and carry equipment up… other people would question that,” Preto said. “He did what he had to do to make everything work.”

When Youngstown State reached the NCAA football championship in 2016, each member of the video team received a commemorative ring. Drake wore it in his graduation photos.

What hurts most, say those who knew Drake, is that he won’t be able to fulfill his potential as a professional and community servant.

“He was much loved and will be greatly missed,” Pritchard said.

Pritchard has started a GoFundMe for those who would like to donate to the family. It had raised about $2,600 as of Wednesday afternoon.

Drake is survived by eight siblings: Traesha Pritchard, Taynnaza Drake, Ashanti Dolby, Yemara Tune, Noaih Drake, Gavin Drake, Darius Drake and Stephen Drake III; grandparents Stephen and Donna Drake; fiancée Victoria Gonzalez; and a host of other relatives and friends.

A viewing will be held Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pittsburgh’s Larimar neighborhood, 6556 Shetland St. A service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the same location.

Jack Troy is a TribLive reporter. A native of Pittsburgh, he joined the Trib in January 2024. He can be reached at [email protected].

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