Halloween is a time for ghosts, ghoulies and goblins, so I guess it’s time for a ghost story. Those of us who spent time in law enforcement, fire and EMS sometimes have ghosts we carry with us for the rest of our lives. One of my ghosts is a fourteen year-old boy who died on Halloween night.
The call came in at home from the funeral home ambulance service around the corner. Rita, crusty and terse as she was when it was bad, “Jade, come quick.” The call was a child hit by a car, out on Route 96 between Ithaca and Trumansburg. Hard Code 3 all the way, through the Fall darkness.
On arrival, the boy was about fourteen, toussled brown hair, lying on his back on the white line. A quick look told me his skull was shattered, blood and clear fluid coming from his ears, eyes, nose and mouth. He’d clearly died on impact. His shoes were still on the road where the car had ripped him out of them, thrown him fifty feet to where he landed. I think someone had rolled him over and straightened his limbs before we got there. I covered him with a sheet where he lay.
The story came out quickly as we waited for the County Coroner. He and his friends were out on a lark, stealing jack-o-lanterns from people’s porches. When they saw the man in the house across the road come to the door with a shotgun, they ran, our victim back across Route 96 without ever looking. He never made it to the other side.
I sat on the ground by his side, waiting for the OK to move him. It didn’t seem right to leave him alone like that. The bystanders, deputies, and eventually a local TV news crew kept their distance. The cameraman wanted me to remove his sheet. Said it would be a good lesson for the kids. I declined. The old farmer, dressed in his bib overalls and a t-shirt said the kid deserved it for trying to steal his pumpkin. Nobody questioned him. The driver said he never saw anything before the bang. After thirty minutes or so, we got the nod to remove the body.
None of the bystanders stepped up to help. Rita was too old to do any lifting. I pulled the gurney out of the old Plymouth ambulance by myself, left it behind the rig. Gently tucking the sheet under the boy — he may have weighed 100 pounds if that — I said quietly, “It’s time to go. We can’t leave you here all night,” and picked him up in my arms. Cradling him like the child he once was, I set him softly on the gurney for his last ride to the hospital.
On arrival, we transferred his body to a hospital gurney outside the Emergency Room door. There was nothing the hospital could do for him. Rita wanted to leave, but I heard his parents had been notified and I wanted to wait with him until they arrived. I’ll never forget their frozen faces, crushed with anguish, as I gave them back their broken baby boy.
Getting home that night, I remember collapsing in tears onto my girlfriend’s bed. She got from my tears that it had been bad. There really wasn’t anything she could do, and I didn’t want to burden her with the details. People said it wasn’t any good to bring what happened back home with you. The ethic back then was shake it off and drive on. I couldn’t help it on this one. Thinking back, I think my EMS work was one of the things that helped break that relationship. I still miss her sometimes.
This happened over forty years ago. I never registered the boy’s name, but every Halloween, I still remember him and have a hard time getting into Halloween beyond giving candy to kids on the porch.
For those who have friends or family in law enforcement, EMS or fire services, please remember that holidays may carry memories and ghosts for us. Treat us tenderly and give us space if we need it. We served our time taking care of our community’s tragedies and their victims. Sometimes the ghosts re-emerge and we need to take time to visit with them and grieve.
- Jade Tippett, Author