The phone call no one wants to get


It all started when I answered the phone early in the evening on a spring day several years ago. After I said “Hello,” I heard a man’s voice ask to speak with my husband. I assumed it was someone calling about needing something to do with the farm. (This was before we had our own cell phones.) He wasn’t home at the time, so I asked if I could take a message.

Then the man said, “Are you Kay Conklin?” Well, that got my attention, so I said, “Yes.” The next sentence came as quite a shock. He said, “This is the Clark County Coroner’s Office.” If he said any more at that moment, I don’t remember, because immediately I knew there was no reason the Clark County Coroner’s Office should be calling my house. I knew exactly where both my daughters and husband were at that moment, so it had to be a wrong number.

Then the man said, “We are trying to find the phone number of the mother of Richard Conklin.” I was still positive that he had the wrong number, because, at that moment, I didn’t think I knew any Richard Conklin.

Then the man said, “There has been a traffic accident and we need to notify the victim’s mother.” Now, it was an even stronger feeling that I hoped he had the wrong number, because he just used the words “accident and victim.”

Then the man said something about a motorcycle. Other words were said, but the only one that registered was the word, “motorcycle.” Then I finally realized that he could be talking about

our nephew, Rick, because he rides a motorcycle. In fact, he has a shop and repairs them as a business.

I think the man again said, “I am calling to find Richard Conklin’s mother’s phone number.” At that moment, I said, “You will have to leave your number and I will find out what it is, and call you right back.” With that, I hung up and tried to put the pieces together. I know that coroners notify families in cases of a death. And he needed to find the phone number for the mother of a guy named Richard.

And, it could be Rick because he was always a single guy, meaning his next of kin would be his mother. (Rick’s dad had died when Rick was a child.) Noting the time, I realized that Rick may have been on his motorcycle going home for supper.

Other phone calls were made, and soon the Clark County Coroner’s office was given the phone number of Rick’s mom, who was living out of state. The calm, peaceful life that we had been living, before the phone call, was over. Richard, always known as Rick, was our nephew, and had been a part of our lives for all the 37 years he had lived. Next came trips to the funeral home in Springfield. There were calling hours that lasted for hours.

Then, after the funeral the next day, there was a procession up and down the streets of Springfield that consisted of his many biker friends leading the way for the rest of his friends and family.

By that fall, there was a case in the courts concerning the drunk driver. We had to go to the Clark County Court House where the case was filed. The report was that he had been struck by a drunk driver and had died at the scene. Would the driver have to go to prison?

Wasn’t the law such that if you were drinking and driving, and caused the death of someone, it was mandatory that you go to prison for 8 years? In Rick’s case, the drunk driver was a frail, 79-year-old gentleman, who had been to an anniversary party that afternoon and had a couple too many drinks.

The judge was told by members of Rick’s family, that they felt that Rick would not have wanted the driver to have to serve 8 years in prison. The driver was given 5 years probation. This also meant house arrest for 90 days, a lifetime loss of his driver’s license, paying restitution, as well as his own lawyer’s fees, etc. But, no prison time.

The driver was driving directly into the bright late afternoon sun on a two-lane highway, as he headed west. Rick was coming from the west in the other lane. At the corner, as the driver was turning left onto a side road, Rick was on his motorcycle at that same spot in the highway. Rick was hit and died at the scene. It was a very sad situation all around for everyone involved.

And every so often, still, when I go to answer the phone, I am reminded about what happened to our nephew, Rick.

Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.

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