Parents killed in crash, kids orphaned, trooper steps in

Family photo

On Halloween, Georgia state trooper Nathan Bradley heard the particulars on his police radio of a traffic accident not far away from where he was patrolling.

He headed for the scene, he writes.

After a drive that would feel like an eternity, I could see a display of blue, red and amber lights in the distance. I exited my patrol car and felt the stillness in the air – the emergency personnel weren’t scurrying and a crowd of witnesses were covering their mouths off to the side. I approached the horrific scene to validate what I had already suspected. We conducted our investigations and were now responsible for contacting the families of the two occupants involved. They had matching addresses, which was less than a mile away.

Donald and Crystal Howard were dead and Bradley’s job was to find the nearest relative and tell them the news.

A county deputy, the deputy coroner and myself made our way to the house that was backed into the woods. You could hear dogs barking behind the wooden door as we knocked with desperation. The door hesitantly opened and there behind the locked screen door stood four children in full costume – a 13-year-old Freddy Krueger, 10-year-old daughter of a Dracula, 8-year-old wizard and a 6-year-old that appeared to be a firefighting ninja turtle. We were lost with words. The deputy then asked the eldest boy if anybody was home, hoping for a ‘Yes’ but the boy would unknowingly disappoint us. “My parents went to the store to get more face paint. They told us not to open the door for anybody, but they should be back soon.”

The contingent tried to find an adult relative, Bradley writes on a GoFundMe page, but it took awhile.

They finally found the kids’ grandmother, but it would be seven hours before she could arrive at the home. Meanwhile, there were these four kids ready to go Trick or Treating.

He took them out to eat.

The three youngest, who were sitting in the back couldn’t control their excitement (sic). The little girl mentioned that going out to eat was rare in their family because her mom is such a great cook. Another part of me torn. We stopped by McDonald’s to grab the 10-year-old a large fry and the 6-year-old a Happy Meal, as requested. We then drove several miles to the nearest Burger King; the 8-year-old desired a Whopper with onions on it. I ordered us all milkshakes, again hopping to absorb as much time as possible.

They still didn’t know what he had to tell them. After dinner, they headed to the trooper’s post.

As we watched Monster House, there was a knock at the door. It was three residents that heard the news and felt the need to help. In their hands were decorated goodie bags made up of candy and small toys! The kids were absolutely delighted and the visitors helped with entertainment. Shortly after they left, the Sheriff arrived carrying four holiday buckets full of candy! The kids were so excited, especially the lilttle girl that loves cop shows. She stood on the couch and explained how she never met a real sheriff before. The sheriff was touched by the children. He held conversations with each before pulling the 13-year-old to the side and presented him with a miniature deputies badge, made of metal. I could tell the boy admired the gift.

Five hours to go before grandmother could arrive from Florida.

The kids fell asleep. And when grandmother showed up, they waited until the kids woke up to tell them the news.

Bradley wrote his number on the bill of a cap he gave to one of the kids and said to call if he ever needed anything.

I was contacted by the 13-year-old this morning; I was glad he felt comfortable reaching out to me. He told me that it is going to cost his grandparents $7,000 dollars to transport his parents to Florida and the remaining funeral costs.

It’s money grandmother didn’t have, but Bradley thought it would be terrible to leave the parents’ bodies in Georgia. So he started raising money, promising everything above $7,000 would go into a trust fund for the kids.

As of this morning, $184,000 has been contributed.

From the archive: The bearers of bad news (MPR NewsCut)