My father’s coroner’s report, and the one that was almost in my name

In August, I posted an article about the appearance of my father, Terry Lee Staats, in the then-recently uploaded FamilySearch database, “Ohio, Stark County Coroner’s Records, 1890-2002.” My father was killed in a one-car automobile accident in 1971. Being all of two years old at the time, I have no memory of him, of course. However, it was (and still is) much more personal, much more connected than genealogy usually gets. The original post, entitled “A New FamilySearch Database Causes Me Genealogical Grief and Questioning” , is about my feelings when I found my father’s name in the index and was not sure whether or not I actually wanted to see the file. Fortunately, it wasn’t really a decision I had to make, as that particular file was not online.

It is now.

I didn’t want to write this post mainly because I didn’t want to belabor the topic. Plus, I am generally an easy-going goof who likes to keep things humorous. And car crashes, coroner’s reports, and the like are not particularly light subjects. However, the timing of the update to the database was not lost on me, and it has been working on me ever since. The database was updated, and my father’s file added two days ago – just two days before the 40th anniversary of the accident and my dad’s death (note: this post was originally written 31 Oct 2011). Just enough time to read the material, think about it, do a little research, and then write about it. I’m not a big believer in signs, but when one falls and hits you in the head, you tend to react.

I guess I stole my own thunder. I read the file. Don’t worry – I won’t be revealing gross details or gory photos. None of that is even in there. It is a two page report, the first of which is a typewritten summary of the findings, and the second page is a copy of the newspaper article that appeared in the paper the following day. To me, I think the coroner’s opening line is sadder than any photo or medical description would likely be:

“Mr. Staats was a 22 year-old man, living at the above address with his wife, Terri. He was a self-employed mechanic.”

The rest of the summary documents the  highway patrol’s description of the accident, the primary injuries, cause(s) of death, etc. There was nothing shocking or new in the file that wasn’t in the newspaper article, death certificate, or family knowledge. But as you might imagine, revisiting it all again gets one thinking. I went through the usual course of emotions that I have so many times over the years: sadness, anger, speculation about how my life would have been/would be different had it not happened. To be clear – I don’t wish I had a different life. In alternate past, I would not have ended up where I am now, with the family and other gifts I currently have (caveat – I do embrace any alternate course that would allow me to have all the stuff except this unsellable crappy house).

My mom brought up the “where are they now” question with regards to the three survivors. While I doubt any good can come of contacting any of them, as only one ever had any contact with my family after the accident, the researcher in me couldn’t turn down a challenge. I’ve discovered that the one person who did have contact with my mom appears to have passed away in 2002. Another, who may or may not be a distant relative, is still presumably living. I couldn’t determine for sure what his most recent address is. The third was a little more elusive, although he did still live in the area as of 2000. If I were interested in contacting them, I could chase down more exact details, but to be honest, I think this coroner’s file brings all the closure necessary. That’s not to say I won’t still be playing the “what if” game off and on for the rest of my time here.

All of this got me thinking about how I could very easily have been a sad example of the fruit  not falling far from the tree.

Back in my wilder days of youth, I was at a party outside of North Canton. All of the things you might suspect of summertime parties involving groups of people in the 18-24 year demographic were in ample evidence there. The first unfortunate decision I made was to drive back to Rootstown, where I was living at the time. The drive from North Canton to Rootstown is a rural one – all 55 mph, unlit country roads. After our move, I made that drive countless times. It was also a route that unbeknownst to me then, took me directly by the location of my father’s accident years before. On my drive that particular night, I really have no memory of whether or not I passed by his accident site. In fact, I may have been coming a different way that night and not passed it.

Just outside of Rootstown, there is an “S” curve on Rt. 44. This is where I made my second, and worst decision of the evening: I decided to see how fast I could take those curves. I came into the first curve at about 80mph. Having had to slow down to hold it, I came out of the bottom of the curve around 70mph and started to accelerate into the second curve. I lost traction and was sliding towards the outside edge of the road. I was frantically counter-steering to try and get out of the skid when the wheels grabbed and shot the car off the opposite side of the road.

I’m sure hindsight and the love of storytelling will narrow the gap a little, but I went off the road, over a small embankment, and in right in between a telephone pole and a pine tree. The opening between them was not much more than 20 feet.  A few feet either way, and the only thing anyone would be reading about the accident would likely have been my obituary in the newspaper the next day.

The next disaster waiting to happen in my wild ride through stupidity was a collision with a house sitting not too far off the road directly in my path. However,  I went off the road in between properties. The first property was a corner of a vacant field bounded by a barbed-wire fence. I tore through the first side of the corner and into the second side, which helped to drag me to a stop just on the other side of the fence. The only thing I remember after going off the road was my glasses flying off my head and seeing all the music gear that was in the car floating near the ceiling beside me. The next thing I remember was realizing that I was not only still alive –  I wasn’t even hurt. I got to go home.

As you might imagine, the incident has provided quite a few questions for philosophical speculation over the years, the biggie of course being: given startlingly similar circumstances, why did I live and he die? Luck? Fate? Divine intervention? I’m not going to take a stab at that answer. Being a genealogist, of course, I would need some documentation for an accurate conclusion, and I don’t know how to cite any of those things. I resist the urge to make overly dramatic claims about what may or may not have happened that night. But every so often, I indulge myself and like to think (hope?) that maybe my dad saw me pass by that night and helped me out.

Thanks, Dad. I got it from here.

This entry was posted in Family, Thoughts and Musings. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to My father’s coroner’s report, and the one that was almost in my name

  1. I’d like to see you cite ‘divine intervention’ :)

    Wonderful story, Genealogy brings out a lot more than just the dates and names in people.

  2. I’m glad you made it safely through your teenage years! Interesting post. It had to be hard to finally read his file, wondering what you would find…

    I recently had a discussion with my brother regarding several “what if” scenarios in our lives. We both agreed that our lives would be different had “things” been done or happened differently – but – and this is the biggie for me – Would our lives be better? We have no way of knowing. We can’t help but think about it, but dwelling on it and perhaps becoming obsessed by it doesn’t change anything… we can only live our lives the best we can and hope that at the end something good will have come from it.

  3. avatar Margaret Cheney says:

    Sometimes we just have to understand the “rest of the story”. It took a lot of inner fortitude to put this piece together. I am sure it was not an easy one to write. I am a very FIRM believer in a bigger force in our lives. Yes, the “what ifs” and “could’ve beens” are always there to make us think. We do have to learn, though, that our lives are set in motion by events we don’t always understand. My own mother always used to say “Everything happens for a reason”. You are doing what you are supposed to be doing at the time you are supposed to be doing it. Sit back and enjoy the ride.