EUCLID, Ohio — In the early morning hours of Oct. 10, a life was lost.
A construction worker was killed while working overnight on I-71. He and another worker were painting lines on the road when a woman crashed into them, and decided to keep going.
It's one of many similar reckless or distracted driving crashes we've seen on Northeast Ohio roadways this past year. This one fell on the anniversary of a similarly somber day for the Euclid Police Department, and hundreds of people who knew Patrolman George Brentar.
Brentar was killed on I-90 on Oct. 10, 2007 while watching for speeders. In a pursuit of one car, Plt. Brentar lost control of his cruiser, hit a pole, and his cruiser instantly caught fire.
While Plt. Brentar's family and friends have preserved his memory and tried to get justice for his death, nothing will replace the loss of their friend, neighbor, dad, and father. WKYC Studios producer Megan Gallagher feels that loss, too. She grew up remembering Plt. Brentar as a loving and easy-going neighbor and father of her two friends.
She's penned this letter in his memory, with the hope it stops someone from not thinking before getting behind the wheel.
To the life we lost to careless driving:
It's been 12 years since a careless speeder took your life. And still, we have people going too fast and not thinking when they get behind the wheel.
It’s been 12 years since the officers interrupted your wife with the terrible news, as she watched your son play basketball with his buddies. Their lives changed forever that night. And still, the same crushing news is being shared with new victims everyday.
It’s been 12 years since I heard my brother’s sobs of “It can’t be real” over the phone. And still, countless tears have been shed over selfish driving habits.
October 10, 2007. I’ll never forget the day. When I think back on the moment I heard the news, the memories flood in just as vividly as the year before. Your life, a life of service and the idea of “slowing down”, ended. Patrolman George Brentar, #93, 22-year veteran of the force, taken from us in the blink of an eye.
It was already a pretty crazy 24 hours. That same day, a train derailed in Painesville, and my mom called me during junior high theater practice to ask me to shut all the windows of the house when I got home, so any dangerous air wouldn’t waft into the house. Our neighborhood was too close to the crash. She and my brother were headed to his basketball game.
I wasn’t home long before I got another call from my mom. I thought she was calling about the train again (you remember how she would worry about stuff like that) but I instantly knew something was wrong. My brother was moaning, as my mother tried to explain there had been an accident.
At first I thought my brother was hurt, given how emotional he was. Instead, my mother told me you weren’t coming home to the neighborhood that night. I remember feeling frozen to the linoleum in the kitchen. It didn’t feel real. It’s been 12 years since that moment. I still feel a bit frozen when I remember it.
You were just doing your job. Sitting on I-90, monitoring traffic. When a speeder zoomed past you, you did what only a three-time officer-of-the-year- nominated guy would do. Hit the gas. No time for careless driving on your watch. But it was raining pretty hard that night. Just minutes into the pursuit, the rain caused your cruiser to hydroplane into a pole. It caught fire almost instantly. Off-duty officers from PA tried to help, but the flames swallowed the car whole. I hate thinking about how those last moments must have felt. One of the most selfless people we knew, killed in an unimaginable way. It’s been 12 years since this happened...and we still wish it didn’t.
You always taught us about the importance of community, coming together, and just slowing down in life. You brought the neighbors together with bonfires and block parties. You taught my brother to play T-ball and you took your kids fishing at Veteran’s Park whenever you could. In these moments, you let the hard realities of police work fall to the side and were fully present. Never distracted. You planned to get back to fishing more once you retired in a few years.
I know you’d be disappointed by how fast-paced life is now. Texting and driving, distractions in our own cars, and more and more crashes simply because someone wasn’t paying attention or became selfish. I feel like it’s almost a weekly routine at work to hear of another police chase, another drunk driving crash, or another hit-and-run. And admittedly, I could be better at paying attention behind the wheel myself. But people are still dying at the hands of this. On the anniversary of your death, a construction worker lost their life working along I-71. They were just doing their job. I never forget the day we lost you, and realizing that happened the same day hurts my heart.
I’ve seen your badge number, 93, pop up in such odd places since you left. The one day I’ll never forget was the Cavaliers Championship. It was Father’s Day, and the Cavs won 93-89. Your daughter pointed that out. You would have loved to see them win. I like to think seeing that combination of numbers around is you reminding all of us to slow down, pay attention to life, and stay focused on what matters.
It’s been 12 years since someone decided speeding on the road was more important than your life. And while your cruiser's flames ultimately killed you, you might never have left your post if someone had just followed the speed limit.
It's been 12 years since I watched Chief Repicky, and my own father, tear up trying to get through your funeral. And still, hundreds of people are making a the decision that distracted driving is more important than someone’s life. And still, we have another person just doing their job, who will never return home to their family.
We miss you, Mr. Brentar. I hope your life and legacy are a reminder that even those working on the side of the roads want to go home to their families and friends at the end of every shift. Hope there’s lots of fish to catch in heaven.