Hope Beyond You

September 18th, 2008

Its been about six years now since that terrible night.

It was a rainy evening during that 2002 summer, dark and not a whole lot was going on in our communities and so most people were enjoying time at home with family. As happens during those evenings, disputes break out and some arguments escalate and the police are called to quell the mounting tension. Such was the case in Plumstead Township on the night of May 18th, 2002.

The call came out of a disturbance and a veteran officer responded to a local trailer park and signed out on scene. As is routine, after a few minutes the dispatch began to call the officer to check on his well being but those calls went unanswered. This can happen from time to time but with the nature of the call, the age of the responding officer, the conditions of the night and the location of the call, officers began responding in that direction in case assistance was needed and to check on the status of the officer to ensure his safety.

One officer, Joseph Hanusey, a 30 year old husband and father, who also worked for Plumstead Township began heading southbound on Route 611 and the more the dispatch tried to contact the officer on the scene of the disturbance without success, the more urgency Officer Hanusey had in his response. Soon, he was traveling at a high rate of speed approaching the area. He advised the county dispatch that he was enroute. That was essentially the last radio transmission he ever made.

Less than one mile from the scene, there is a curve in the road and water was running across it from the excessive amount of rain that was falling. Perhaps even the heavens were crying as they knew what the night would bring. Officer Hanusey entered that curve and his patrol car began hydroplaning and rotating and as he crossed the roadway, his front end impacted a tree spinning the car around sending him into second tree directly on the drivers side door. The force of that impact ended the life of Joe that night.

I spoke with officers who responded to the scene and that had to witness the tragedy and brutality the accident had wrought. There was great emotion as grown men walked around stunned, lost, helpless and confused as they struggled with their powerlessness when they were always the powerful, decisive, action oriented and in control and here they are staring at their comrade, their fellow officer, their friend who has met a violent end.

Needlessly.

You see, the officer who everyone was going to check on had simply forgotten to turn on his hand-held radio and never heard the storm of activity his silence was generating. He was fine. The situation had calmed. He was just gathering information and when the reality of what had happened unfolded upon him, it revealed a cloak of guilt and responsibility he is destined to wear forever. A child will grow up without a father. A wife will face an uncertain future alone, a home is shattered just because a tiny switch wasn’t flipped. So many times officers remind each other to have their radios on and this officer had been told many times over years of service but……………

We were all taken back as the news spread like lightening through out the law enforcement community. I got in to work that night to the news that Joe was gone and those words didn’t even hit home till days later. I found myself one late night out for a ride on my bike and I ended up at the scene sitting across the road staring at the massive scars left on the trees and felt like those scars were ripped across all our hearts. I removed my helmet resting it on the tank and I felt a depth of pain wash over me in massive waves over and over again until I had tears welling up in my eyes. I hadn’t cried before then. I wanted to. But I hadn’t cried until that time. As I looked at the trees with their bark torn away and the bright fresh wood just beneath the bark exposed, seemingly weeping for fulfilling it’s destiny of growing just where it did, I thought about how those scars would heal but there would always be a reminder, visibly or invisibly in our memories as time began to wear away at the pain and numb us to the depth of the wounds we all were suffering under. A well intended act had ended in tragedy. A simple mistake had resulted in a life ending.

Several days later we stood at the cemetery in ranks all spit and polished listening to the sweet, terrible squeal of bag pipes as they proclaimed their saddest song, announcing that another life was over and he was being laid to rest. There is something horrible about seeing a casket being lowered into the ground. It’s the end. There is no more. Hope is gone. For me, that’s the point where the reality and depth finally sinks in. I couldn’t leave. I stayed and lingered talking, shaking hands, hugging, crying with men who generally have a difficult time showing any emotion what-so-ever. We didn’t want to leave Joe.

I think perhaps we all were imagining our own mortality and the fragile nature of life itself. We’d been to funerals before. We’ve seen death before. Accidents, murders, suicides, mutilations. All were just another call; All were just another investigation; All were just another batch of paperwork. But this time, It was different. This time it was personal. That was us individually being laid in that hole, no longer horrid, but terrifying.

There is no real good ending to this story. A few days later I once again had gone for a ride and found myself in the cemetery alone staring at the fresh soil now laid over the casket that contained a friend. I parked my bike and walked over to the spot and got down on my knees as I talked with him one last time. I said what was on my heart, what I felt, and told him that I missed him. Everyone missed him.

I’ve never gone back but I’ve never left him either. That scar and wound from the tragic loss of Joe has healed some over time. But it’s still there. You never know what scars people are carrying around on their hearts, in their minds that have left them changed forever. That tree? It was cut down and taken away. Too many men having to patrol that roadway day in and day out, night and day, just couldn’t stand the site of it and they did all they knew to do. They destroyed the symbol of the pain, they attacked the instrument that ended the life of their friend. But they will never root out the reality that Joe is gone. Memorials have been erected in the station, in the community and even here on the web. Unfortunately, those will last longer than we will but my hope is that his memory won’t. But it will. We forget the depth of his voice, the tone of his laugh, the feel of his hand, his patience dealing with us and people he came in contact with, his wisdom and his weakness.

So how does hope fit into it? Where is the hope in this story? Sometimes the pain of our loss blinds us to any thread that hangs and we either fold in on ourselves or we grasp wildly at anything that might ……….. connect us in some way to someone or something. Few of us actually really delve into the pain and look for real hope. We make up something in our minds or in our surroundings that we feel comfortable with and turn away from our weakness and therefore often times miss any REAL hope because it doesn’t fit with what we are looking to hang on to. In this case, each of us really internalize things and look for how it effects us and so hope has to take on some meaning for us individually. While there is some of that element, if Joe really meant all that to us, then we look for hope as it relates to his family. They bear the responsibility of carrying on without him. They were closest to him. They are the ones in the greatest pain and so our hope, although internal, is best focused outside us and we strive to provide that hope for a new tomorrow for them. The kids will grow up. His wife will struggle. And we hope for them. We need to hope that today is easier than yesterday. Somehow, by focusing on them, our purpose in hope is fulfilled. They are strengthened and we are strengthened by them. There is joy in that. While his death brought us all to a terrifying low, the sun comes up and a new day dawns. There is hope in that. I hope his children remember what a great man their dad was and I hope they too, become all that,…… and more.

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