A Senseless Tragedy in Our Community and Yours

Senseless death happens all the time.

In our community, it happened on a recent Sunday morning, a young man hit by a car while he was running beside the road. He was 38. He had a wife and 7-year-old daughter.

This young man was also an educator in our town; at the moment of his end, an assistant principal at the De Anza Academy of Technology and Arts in Ventura. He had also served (the proper term) as a teacher at two other area high schools; Foothill Technology High School in Ventura and Nordhoff High School in Ojai. He coached water polo at Buena High School. Water polo players rise in the dark to train. The young man would exhort his sleepy, fidgeting-at-the-pool's-edge minions. This is why I wake up at 5 a.m. every day!

He shook the hands of his students before they came into his classroom. He wore hula skirts (Hawaiian Day) and crazy hair (Guess which day). He convinced his school principal to dress up like Jack Black's Nacho Libre. This principal told a reporter that hiring this young man was the best decision of his life.

"I want to be him. That's the leader I want to be," the principal said.

You are beginning to form a picture.

It is a terrible, senseless loss. In our community, we are reminded of this again. Sadly, we don't need to be reminded. In our community or yours.

This young man was involved in an organization called Schools for Salone, a group that partners with local villages in Sierra Leone to rebuild schools. Visiting Sierra Leone, one day he started a baseball game with the kids, using a one-liter plastic bottle and a lime. Here at home, one day a fellow teacher went into cardiac arrest in class. The young man performed CPR until the paramedics arrived. The teacher lived.

I know. It's almost hard to believe.

The superintendent of our Ventura Unified School District told our newspaper: "He had a unique way of spreading his love of life."

Said a student, "He saw you as a candle to be lit so that you too could go out and make your mark on the world."

"When you stepped into his room," said another, "you were home."

"It's just not fair that such an inspiring, good man had to be taken so suddenly," a student said.

Senseless loss is not a lesson taught in a classroom.

He was, said a fellow teacher, a "kid magnet."

"He was," his wife said, "the most authentic person I've met."

This wife, she spoke too of their daughter. She said their daughter sometimes cries and calls out to her daddy to come back.

Senseless death leaves loved ones behind, facing an unimaginable road that will not end suddenly.

Said the young man's father, "Our loss is also the community's."

And the young man was deaf. A friend remembered how the young man got upset with him because the friend's mustache was too long and he couldn't read the friend's lips.

He might not have heard the car coming. Who knows? Now it doesn't matter. As of this writing, the 23-year-old who hit and killed this young man -- charged with felony gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated -- has pleaded guilty. If convicted, she could face a maximum of 10 years in state prison, but prosecutors are asking for a sentence of six years. This no longer matters to some, but it may matter greatly to others who travel our roads.

There was a candlelight vigil at a high school pool; a memorial service at a high school football stadium. Hundreds mourned and lauded his life. People like this, they stay with you. It doesn't make sense of things, but that is the hope.

At the candlelight vigil at the high school pool, the superintendent of our school district told the crowd, "He was a spectacular and extraordinary man. Nobody could lead like Chris Prewitt -- nobody. In fact, I believe he's leading us right now."

Yes, his name was Chris Prewitt, and as you know now, this mattered greatly in our community.

But your community has its own names and its own senseless endings.

And there will be others.

(A college fund has been started for the Prewitt's daughter. Please go to www.youcaring.com and search for "Chris Prewitt.")

About the Author

Ken McAlpine is the author of eight books and lives in Ventura. His most recent novel, “Juncture,” is a cerebral “Jaws”; a suspense-filled thriller, a story of primal love and our changing oceans and, perhaps, a final fork in the road.
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