Four men involved in a collision last month shared more than that tragic moment. Friends say they understood the importance of second chances.
The three men killed in the Jan. 21 crash on Highway 2 – Gregory Stueck, 37, Kalen Hearn, 22, and Michael Edwards, 51 – had found their second chance at the Lord’s Ranch in Newport, a nonprofit religion-based transitional home.
The men were beating drug and alcohol addictions and were preparing to retake a meaningful place in society, according to those closest to them.
The other man involved in that collision, Spokane firefighter David Batty, received his second chance more than a decade earlier when Spokane city officials reinstated him to the department after a vehicular homicide conviction stemming from a collision that occurred when Batty was driving drunk.
Co-workers say Batty has spent 15 years proving he learned from his deadly mistake.
State troopers say that in the most recent crash, Batty, 51, rear-ended the men’s van when it slowed on U.S. Highway 2 in northern Spokane County, during snow and icy conditions. The impact pushed the van into the oncoming lane where it was hit by a Toyota pickup.
No charges have been filed in the crash, which remains under investigation. There’s no indication that alcohol was a factor in last month’s collision, although test results aren’t in, Washington State Patrol officials said.
Batty lives near the Lord’s Ranch and is friends with Adrian Simila, who runs the facility.
“Dave is extremely upset,” said his attorney, Michael Roff. “He is absolutely devastated.”
Men and women who arrive at the ranch make a six-month commitment to stay there, said Simila. “They get their new purpose and direction from God.”
Batty also turned to God, his friends and colleagues said, and remains deeply religious.
Stueck, a Bozeman resident, arrived at the Lord’s Ranch about two months ago, said Larry Whiston, the ranch’s house director.
“Greg liked construction and working with his hands,” said his father, Don Stueck.
“Greg’s whole life was built around his two sons, (14-year-old) Tyler and (15-year-old) Shannon, who came to visit their dad during the summers,” Don Stueck said. “They live with their mom in South Carolina, but they always wanted to spend more time with their dad.”
Gregory Stueck was in Spokane doing construction work when he decided to seek help. He was staying at Truth Ministries, a homeless shelter, and “wanted to get his life together and stop drinking alcohol,” Whiston said.
Since arriving at the ranch, Stueck “was doing really well,” Whiston said. “He was on top of his struggles. He had committed himself to the Lord.”
Don Stueck said the ranch surrounded his son with people who supported him.
“He had found a place where he saw a light at the end of the tunnel,” the father said.
Hearn’s mother, Western Washington resident Mara Sweeney, received an optimistic phone call from her son just one day before he died.
He said, “Mom, I’m no longer a hopeless dope fiend. I’m a dope-less hope fiend.”
And he talked about the future. “We talked about how his whole world was going to open up to him,” Sweeney said. “He sounded like a little boy at Christmastime. He had such joy in his voice.”
His mom said he planned on finishing his rehabilitation, finding a home in Spokane with his fiancee and starting a landscape business.
“Their future was so bright,” Sweeney said.
Hearn grew up in Redmond, Wash., and moved a few years ago to nearby Kirkland, where he was known for volunteering to help teens and struggling families.
“He was an amazing person,” Sweeney said. “His best quality was his genuine kindness. There was nothing fake about him.”
Edwards had been at the Lord’s Ranch the longest. After almost nine months, Whiston said, “he was in a bit of a leadership role.”
The 51-year-old Spokane resident, who was battling alcoholism, was nicknamed Bulldozer.
“He’d do whatever it took to get a job done,” Whiston said. “He was a hard worker.”
But he was also described as caring.
“He would often put himself in a bad light just to make others look good,” Whiston said.
Edwards’ death came “when Michael was being open and transparent for the first time in his life,” the house director said.
Whiston cried as he talked about the three men and the progress they’d made.
“I loved these guys,” Whiston said. “But as tragic as it was, everything I’ve heard about David Batty has been good. And I had to ask myself: ‘Have I ever followed a car too closely?’ “