Year after Heidelberg parade death, only time marches on
One year after 12-year-old Maurice Long was killed during a homecoming parade accident, the boy’s family and the man charged in the death are still waiting for resolution.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 James Long and his wife, Andrea, attended a candlelight vigil Thursday night at Heidelberg Middle School on Patrick Henry Village in Germany. It was the anniversary of their son’s death, for which no one is taking blame.
Meanwhile, Richard Keesee, who lives just a few hundred yards away, was still wondering if he was going to be sent to prison. He faces up to five years on a charge of negligent homicide, and a German court is deciding if it will prosecute.
James Long said he believed Keesee acted negligently by allowing youngsters to hop on and off his crowded 1978 Ford Bronco during the parade. But Long also blamed the school and Army Garrison Heidelberg for allowing the parade to be unsupervised.
“Charging [Keesee] isn’t going to bring Maurice back,” James Long said. “It’s going to be no consolation to us if he’s charged or not.
“It would be nice if the adults who were in charge would stand up and take responsibility, but they won’t.”
Long said he is going to file a tort claim, like a lawsuit, against the Army, seeking financial damages for pain and suffering.
Keesee, who is in Heidelberg because his wife was twice kept there by the Army’s stop-loss program, said he wants to go back to the United States, but only after his wife returns from a deployment to Iraq, and after his court case is resolved.
A lower court cleared Keesee of charges. But in Germany, prosecutors can appeal the case to a higher court, which they did.
“It’s still an undone thing,” Keesee said. “There’s no closure for anybody on this, not for the Long family, or for myself.”
Maurice, a seventh-grader, died Oct. 19, 2005, after he latched onto Keesee’s crowded parade vehicle for a tow while riding a nonmotorized scooter. At the end of the parade, the boy was knocked to the ground from behind by the Bronco’s protruding spare-tire holder.
He struck his right forehead on a curb; it took nearly 20 minutes for a German ambulance to arrive, and the boy died on the scene.
Under German law, Keesee is responsible for the people in and around his vehicle, even when it is creeping along at walking speed during a parade on a U.S. installation.
“[Keesee] was allowed to be negligent,” Long said. “He was put in a position where he had no support from the school or garrison. None of the drivers did.”
Army investigators previously said that a communication breakdown between the garrison and school caused the parade to be unsupervised by military police.
The garrison declined to comment, other than to profess that safety and safety training is a high priority and continuously re-evaluated.
“Because of continuing litigation, we are unable to discuss in greater detail the Maurice Long accident,” said Harry Connors, the garrison’s public affairs officer. “We continue to mourn his loss.”
Heidelberg High School decided not to have a homecoming parade this year out of respect for the Long family, according to Dr. Allen Davenport, the school’s principal.
“Emotions are still pretty high,” Davenport said. “That was quite a tragedy for us last year.
“We still have Maurice’s brother in school. A lot of people knew that young boy and there’s still a lot of trauma. We didn’t want to revisit that. A year is not a long time.”
Keesee said canceling the parade didn’t solve the problem.
“I think it was just the easy way out,” he said. “They did not make the correction; they don’t have to admit anything. Just cancel the parade and it’s done.”
Keesee pulled his two teenage daughters out of the school and is home schooling them. He said he didn’t want them exposed to potentially cruel behavior.
“Kids are kids, and kids will say things,” Keesee said. “It’s not [the daughters’] fault. I’m not going to put them in that environment.”
Long said he was brought to tears Thursday by the turnout at the candlelight vigil.
“It showed again that a lot of people still care and still remember,” Long said, “because Maurice had lot of friends.”