Tragedy in Hebron

via my cellphone early Tuesday afternoon

I took this early Tuesday afternoon of the crash site in Hebron.

Accidents will never go away.

I realize that, but I wanted to take moment to highlight one this week.

Paige Houston, 17, was killed in an accident early Tuesday morning.

I’m not going to dive into any details of the investigation or anything. You can read: “RHAM REMEMBERS CLASSMATE Family, friends honor victim of fatal crash ” and “DMV: Driver violated teen-driving laws ” and “Teenager killed in Hebron crash .”

I heard about the crash when I got into work Tuesday morning.  I was assigned the story because Michelle and Louisa were busy with other stories.

At first, I didn’t think anything of it.

I just put my head down and got to work.

I made all of the normal calls. I tried to get state police to give me more information, but they weren’t budging.

The story got bigger after my editors and I realized that Houston was an honor roll student and was adored in the community.

We knew the local stations were going to be all over it.

Look at the front page of Tuesday’s Hartford Courant:

via newseum.org

via newseum.org

Mike and I came up with a plan rather quickly. After deadline, I would “hang out” at the crash site and talk to mourners.

I didn’t think twice about that, but, looking back, I should have known what I was getting into.

After deadline, I went out to the crash. It was about 20 minutes from the office and I had a general idea of where it was.

When I got there, there was no one there. I knew I was going to be there awhile, but I had no idea what was going to come next.

After I parked my car up the road from the site, waves of cars full of people came. Most, if not all, with flowers or something to put next to the tree. It was really tough to see. This wasn’t my first fatal accident, but it was the first time I had ever purposefully tried to talk to mourners at any site.

A couple of the first mourners gave me looks, which was fine. The accident had happened not even 11 hours before I got there. This was still fresh on everyone’s mind. Several mourners told me to leave.

I told them “okay” and let them know that the news crews would be here by the early afternoon. Standing with my notebook and pen, I let people come up to me. I didn’t push anyone to talk. I just let them be and slowly approach individuals. No matter what, I was being imposing and that just comes with this type of assignment. There was nothing I could really do, or say, to help that.

I stayed at the crash site for a couple of hours. I talked to a neighbor, a state trooper and several mourners. It wasn’t easy work, but I got it done.

After I left the site, I went to the high school and talked to the superintendent and principal. My editors needed a “mug shot” picture of Houston for Wednesday’s paper. I had been in contact with the principal throughout the day and scheduled an opportunity to take a picture of her.

That wasn’t easy either. There wasn’t much they can say. The district is in a tough spot because they can’t really divulge anything they know about students, due to privacy laws. I got some general statements and let them be.

I drove home and began to write. I knew it was going to take a lot out of me, but I made sure I started writing.

Not long after I started, I saw on Twitter that there was going to be a vigil at the high school. I immediately informed my city editor and he told me to cover it.

I got a hold of our night-time photographer, filled him in and wrote as much as I could before I had to leave.

Covering that vigil was tough. No one would talk to me. Even the news crews weren’t getting anyone to talk to. It was brutal. I don’t think I saw a dry eye all night.

I left after almost two hours and tried to get some rest.

I got into work early on Wednesday morning and wrote as fast as I could. I had a lot of quotes to put together and I needed to make sure I gave myself enough time.

It all worked out and it came out really nice. I tried to do the vigil justice. It was such a powerful gathering that I really struggled with it.

I won’t soon forget this past week.

Jonathan

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