Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Staffers see too many relatives die

Several Leader staffers lost their relatives during the holidays, two of them killed in car wrecks, while another relative died suddenly from a heart attack.

As we were talking about the unusually high number of sudden deaths in The Leader family, word came that the 93-year-old mother of bluesman Charlie Musselwhite was strangled in Memphis during a home break-in. Musselwhite’s father died a few days later in a nursing home.

Christy Hendricks, who is an editor at The Leader, lost her aunt Franna Johnson of Benton when she was killed early last week in a car accident on Hwy. 67/167 north of Searcy. Johnson, who was 50, was buried Friday.

Gregg DeFrance, 50, of Searcy, had rear-ended two vehicles on the highway, including the Jeep that Mrs. Johnson was riding in with her husband, Matthew, 47, and two granddaughters, Greenley Jewell, 4, and Elizabeth Jewell, 1, both of Searcy.

Franna Johnson was ejected from the Jeep, along with Greenley, after it overturned several times on an embankment.
Franna was pronounced dead at the scene. Greenley was hardly hurt. Her sister and grandfather, who remained in the Jeep, had more serious injuries. They were all hospitalized overnight and then released.

Christy Hendricks says, “I think what I’ll remember most about my aunt Franna is her smile. She had a good smile, and I rarely saw her without one. I can’t remember one time when I saw her that she didn’t mention every one of her children, not just her two — Amy and Brad — but her two step-children also, Chad and Brooke. She was crazy over her grandchildren.

“Every time I saw her and my uncle Matt together they were happy. She was a good person, and you could see that just by looking at her. She was a tiny woman but she didn’t have to say one word for you to know she was in the room. She had presence. And a good heart.”
Mrs. Johnson wore a seat belt, but she was apparently ejected from the Jeep because she was a small woman.
DeFrance, the driver who caused the accident, was ticketed for reckless driving and no proof of insurance.

Matt Robinson, an account executive at The Leader, attended a memorial service for his cousin in Houston over the weekend after he was killed in a work-related accident early last week.

Robert Norton, 29, had been repairing a telephone line near an intersection when his Southwest-ern Bell truck was hit by a driver who had run a red light as the truck was leaving the repair site.

Norton was ejected from the truck and run over. He and his wife, Tina, had three children. Jan. 1 was the couple’s 12th wedding anniversary.
“He was always outgoing,” Robinson recalls. “He loved life and his family.”
Charges have been filed against the driver for running the red light.

Magen Henderson of Beebe, who is the daughter-in-law of John Henderson, The Leader’s sales manager, lost her cousin from Russellville on Christmas Eve. Matt Moore, who was only 30, had a heart attack while doing some household chores.

“They last spoke to each other the week before, making plans to see each other for the holidays,” John Henderson told us.
Staff writer Joan McCoy’s cousin, Danny Coe, 51, died of a heart attack just before New Year’s Eve.

“He was a big teddy bear,” she said. “He hugged everybody. He was an incredibly sweet man. He’s a big loss. At the funeral, they said they’d never seen so many grown men cry.”

A death that does not involve The Leader family, but is just as shocking, is the senseless murder of Ruth Maxine Musselwhite, who was strangled in her Memphis home last month.

Her body was found Dec. 19. Quinton Burks, a 24-year-old neighbor, has been charged with first-degree murder and burglary. He had allegedly stolen her jewelry and automobile. The car was later recovered and its theft linked to Burks.
Mrs. Musselwhite’s husband, Charles, Sr., 88, died in a nursing home last Wednesday.

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” said blues great Charlie Musselwhite after the terrible news about his parents.
As B.B. King wails, “How blue can you get?”

It’s been a sad holiday for many people. Hope yours was better.