Widow left with questions after crash
ADAM LYNN; The News Tribune
Published: October 7th, 2005 12:01 AM
Suzanne Hickel wants answers. Why was a 14-year-old boy out at 5 a.m., possibly drunk and driving a stolen pickup? Why did he swerve into oncoming traffic near Purdy? Why, oh, why did he plow head-on into her beloved husband, Rodger, killing him?
“Unbelievable,” Hickel said Thursday during a break from arranging her husband’s funeral. “A 14-year-old boy out drunk and driving at 5 in the morning.”
The boy’s mother, Paula Kelly of Tacoma, said she has few answers to offer Hickel.
“My heart goes out to that family. We’re praying for them,” Kelly said from her home on Tacoma’s East Side as she prepared to go to the hospital to sit by her son’s bed. “But I don’t know what was going through the kid’s mind. I’m mad at my son. I’m mad that it happened.”
Rodger Hickel, a 63-year-old great-grandfather, died Tuesday at Tacoma General Hospital after the 5 a.m. wreck.
The 14-year-old boy is at Tacoma General Hospital, recovering from a head injury. The left side of his face was split open, and doctors are concerned he might have brain damage, his mother said. He has opened his eyes but not spoken.
The intersection of their two lives and the senseless ending of one of them have left their families in states of shock.
“He was a wonderful father and husband and was dearly loved by many, many people,” Suzanne Hickel said. “I’m just devastated.”
Kelly hopes her son will soon be able to tell her what happened. He still doesn’t know he killed a man, she said.
“What started it, I don’t know,” Kelly said.
The morning began commonly enough for Rodger Hickel.
Suzanne Hickel said her husband of 25 years left for work Tuesday like he always did. An electrician at Boeing’s Renton plant, he gave himself 30 extra minutes to get to work each morning because of traffic.
“He really loved work,” his wife said. “We had talked about him retiring early, but he decided to keep working.”
Still, the couple were looking forward to their golden years and were building a getaway cabin on Palmer Lake. They hoped to have the cabin ready when Rodger Hickel retired in two years.
While Rodger Hickel was easing toward retirement, Paula Kelly’s youngest son was struggling through adolescence.
His mother described him as a normal kid who loved music, working on cars and going to the mall.
“He’d do anything for anybody,” Kelly said. “He’d never intentionally hurt anybody.”
But the boy, who The News Tribune is not naming because he is a juvenile and has not been charged with a crime, has had some atypical experiences as well.
Kelly said state Child Protective Services placed him in foster care a few years ago when she became addicted to drugs.
She regained custody last year after getting clean, she said, but her boy has gotten into trouble since then, running away, skipping school and breaking into an abandoned building not far from the family’s house. He and some buddies were arrested, and he was ordered to pay a fine and perform community service, she said.
“Granted, he’s had his problems,” said Kelly, who is separated from the boy’s father. He lives in Florida.
But she said she was surprised early Tuesday when she heard her roommate’s truck start up and drive away. When she realized her son was at the wheel, she called police and waited for him to come home.
The two had argued the week before and he had run away, she said, but he came back a few days later. He enrolled Monday in an alternative school where he thought he’d be happier than the public school he had been attending.
Optimism gave way to dread a few hours later when she received word of the wreck.
Troopers believe her son was driving a 1976 GMC pickup seen swerving on westbound Highway 302 about 5 a.m. At one point, the truck swung into the eastbound lanes.
The driver of a white minivan headed eastbound avoided a collision by veering sharply toward the shoulder.
Hickel, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt, was following the minivan in his 1993 Nissan pickup. Troopers said it appears that he didn’t have time to brake before the GMC slammed into him. They found beer cans in the GMC. Kelly said she doesn’t know where her son got them.
Hickel, a father of four who loved vintage cars and corny jokes, died at Tacoma General. A native of North Dakota, he settled in Washington years ago after retiring from the Air Force, his wife said.
They bought 10 acres on the Key Peninsula where they set up their own version of “Green Acres,” Suzanne Hickel said.
“You know, city people trying to be farm people,” she said.
Now she’s lost her husband and is having a hard time understanding why.
Troopers said the boy might be arrested for investigation of vehicular homicide and car theft if and when he is released from the hospital.
His mother said his legal problems are the least of his worries now. He will be scarred emotionally and physically by what’s happened, she said.
“He’ll be living with this for the rest of his life,” said Kelly, who hopes the Hickel family can one day forgive her son.
Maybe, Suzanne Hickel said, but not now.
“Right now, I’m angry,” she said. “I’m working on the forgiveness issue.”