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June 5, 2012

'He died doing what he loved ...'

They were both bikers.

"We were raised on Harleys, all the way down the line," Tammy Bennett explained Monday. "He died doing what he loved the most."

With Hunter, 12, the youngest of their four children sitting beside her in their Dodge SUV, Tammy Bennett was driving toward Gloucester behind her husband Stephen's red Harley-Davidson when it happened last Thursday.

It happened right in front of her eyes and those of their youngest child, a sixth grader at O'Maley Middle School.

It was an event of logistical improbability, unimaginable horror, surreal futility — and finality.

One minute, Tammy was trying to breathe life back into her husband on the Essex Avenue pavement.

The next, she was trying to relieve the grief and guilt of the driver of the truck that she said pulled out of nowhere — from Fernwood Lake Avenue onto Essex Avenue, just as a dump truck in front of the Harley was turning right onto Fernwood.

On his Harley, Stephen Bennett, 43, could no more see the UPS truck until it was too late than its driver could see Bennett's red Harley, Tammy Bennett explained.

The Essex County District Attorney's office which took the accident reconstruction investigation has not completed its work and has not released the name of the UPS truck driver, a spokeswoman for the office said late Monday.

The life and relationship that ended about 4 o'clock Thursday afternoon on that roadway in West Gloucester began in 1988 with a blind date in their hometown of Streator, Ill.

"On our second date, he kissed me and that sealed the deal," Tammy said in a telephone interview.

From then on, each was the love of each other's life.

Tammy was 18, Steve 19, both just out of high school in a railroad and former coal mining town 90 miles southwest of Chicago that had seen better days. He was working at a printing company, on his way to becoming a machinist in a place that didn't need many machinists.

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