Sometimes the news hits way too close to home


I get a lot of press releases in an average week. It’s not uncommon for me to get 30 or 40 in a day. And many of those come from the Delaware State Police, describing cases of robbery, assault and vehicular accidents.

I sort those releases according to their relevance to our readers, ignoring the ones that are both outside of our area and within the realm of the ordinary. So, a fatal car accident outside of Dover – even one that was later noted to be a hit-and-run – didn’t really ping on my news radar when I read it on Sunday, Nov. 7.

That was until my friend Chelsea, who had been looking for her husband, Josh, since he had left a party late on Saturday night, sent out to her friends the very same press release I had received and gave us the tragic news that the previously anonymous 31-year-old victim had, in fact, been her Josh, his body discovered Sunday morning about 9 a.m.

I remembered feeling mild concern late on Saturday night when I read her appeal for anyone who had heard from Josh to let her know. I had wondered how I would feel in her shoes, having had a minor tiff with my beloved husband, having him leave a party without me and then not being able to find him.

Was he, unaccountably, so mad he’d just left? Was it the last straw on a bad day, or at a lousy party, and he’d just needed to get out of there? Was he just out somewhere cooling off until he felt ready to come back to the party or go home?

I didn’t want to imagine how she was feeling, having returned home and not found him there. I didn’t want to imagine what might be going through her mind, what I’d been thinking in her shoes – that perhaps such a minor thing could be the end of a relationship that meant the world. Or, worse, that he had met with some unfortunate circumstance and wasn’t home because he couldn’t be there.

And, as it turned out, that worst-case scenario was exactly what had happened.

According to the Delaware State Police, Joshua D. Weiss ended up lying dead in a ditch alongside the road near Dover that Saturday night. And we’ll never know if he might have lived and come home to Chelsea and their kids, because the driver who hit him never stopped to see who or what he’d hit, let alone to render aid.

Instead, the 40-year-old Felton man, according to police, called an acquaintance and asked them to return to the scene and see what he had hit. He then, with a 16-year-old Felton boy – who was wanted by police and still at large, according to the most recent information I had at the time this column was written – proceeded to wash Josh’s blood from his SUV, to destroy the evidence of what he had done.

The lack of consideration of one’s fellow man, the lack of any moral imperative to help someone who was injured – let alone someone who you had injured, intentionally or otherwise – exhibited in this case offers enough of a reminder to people of the proper course of action in such a circumstance to be a lesson in itself.

But beyond that – and beyond the impact on Chelsea and her kids, and Josh’s other friends and family – last week’s tragedy brought one thing home to me: The detached, perfunctory way in which people in general – and journalists in particular, I’m afraid (jaded people that we often are) – receive the news of others’ misfortune is itself something we must all actively choose to reject, each and every day.

You hear the news of the bicyclist hit by the car, and you think, “Unfortunate. People need to be more careful.” You hear the news of the 19-year-old killed in a gang shooting in the inner city, and you think, at most, “A wasted life. They need to put those gangs out of commission.”

Only the most tragic, the most out-of-the-ordinary cases really begin to hit home for us, in this day of modern media and instant reporting. We feel for the parents of the missing child for whom they’ve been looking for days. We admire the strength of the mother whose upstanding son was beaten to death by other teens. We can’t help but watch the suffering of thousands in one of the nation’s largest cities as they try to survive a devastating hurricane.

And we feel for those who are close to home – not just our friends and family, but our neighbors. Whether it is Greg Forte, whom an entire community pulled together to try to find, with such a tragic end; or Justin Lowe, who survived his injury but faces a long and challenging road ahead; or Officer Chad Spicer, a young father who was killed in the line of duty; or Elizabeth Shoemaker, who lost her battle with Hodgkins lymphoma – we feel for them in ways we do not for the anonymous stranger in the TV, radio, newspaper or Web site report.

I cannot begin to describe the night in 2006 when I got the call to head out to the site of reported helicopter crash. I was driving home with my toddler son in the car, returning from an evening of holiday shopping, and the rumor was that Josh Freeman had been in the helicopter. I had met Josh a few times, though I did not know him well.

And I knew the moment I arrived and saw what was left of the helicopter that no one had survived that crash. And, amidst the loss of one of the area’s great philanthropists – and a father, husband and general nice guy – I found myself also regretting the loss of the young woman who had piloted the aircraft, one who had been doing her dream job.

But those are the ones that stand out for me. The bicyclist killed near Bridgeville this week – I barely remembered it happened near Bridgeville. I certainly gave little thought to his family, if he had any. I couldn’t tell you the name of the boy killed in the random beating near Atlanta, though I can picture his mother’s face. And that’s not even to try to account for the hundreds killed by cholera in Haiti, or in their earthquake, or in any of the other natural disasters that happen every year around the world.

Those people all had family, friends, co-workers. Their loss is felt by someone, somewhere, as keenly as Chelsea this week is feeling the loss of her husband. Whether they were a bricklayer, or a doctor, or a drug dealer, or a gang member – there is a loss, and it should be acknowledged and mourned.

I know we can’t devote even a moment to each life that is lost – there are just too many. But Josh’s death last week serves as a reminder to me, at least, that each and every death is a loss for us all, in some indirect way. And, also, that each report – anonymous though it may be – of such misfortune could, indeed, hit closer to home than any of us would like.

I just this minute got a press release in my e-mail, subject: “Pedestrian Accident.” The victim in this case was treated and released from the hospital. But you can bet I kept on reading it, even after I read it happened in Newark.

If anyone would like to contribute to help with the costs of Josh’s arrangements or support Chelsea and the kids, you can make a donation to Chelsea Morningstar Weiss online via PayPal to 8morningstar8@gmail.com or by mail to Torbert Funeral Home, 61 S. Bradford Street, Dover, DE 19904. They can really use all the help they can get, so any amount is appreciated.