GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

June 5, 2012

'He died doing what he loved ...'

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

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.

"We stayed in Streator, I worked, he worked on and off, the economy sucked, we had all the kids there," Tammy said.

By the time they left in 2001 with their four children, Ashleigh, now 22, Alyssa, 21, Stephen III, 19, and Hunter — husband and father Stephen Bennett had posted his resume on Monster.com and had gotten hired at Gloucester Engineering. Gloucester offered new opportunity, while Streator was down to 11,000 residents or so from a high of 16,000 in 1960.

They started out living for a while at the Vista Motel, then moved to the Wingaersheek Campground, lived on Forest Street for three years, and eventually took an apartment in The Heights of Cape Ann.

Steve Bennett worked for Gloucester Engineering until 2005 or 2006, when it began going through a slim down and multiple owners. At the time of his death, Steve Bennett was employed at Ophir Optics LLC, of North Andover, a major manufacturer of precision infrared optical components and complex infrared lens assemblies for the defense, security and commercial markets.

The accident scene was a quarter mile from the Bennett's home at The Heights.

Bennett who was motoring along Route 133 at what Tammy estimated was about the speed limit on his red Harley, gliding along behind the dump truck at about 30 miles per hour, she estimates.

They were on their way to get an inspection sticker for the motorcycle, she said.

As the dump truck turned right onto Fernwood Lake Avenue, it revealed to Bennett the UPS truck moving onto Essex Avenue right in front of him. He slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. The cycle smashed into the side of the brown truck, killing Stephen Bennett instantaneously.

"I ran out of my car and tried to find a pulse," said Tammy Bennett.

There wasn't any. She attempted to give her husband mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. No response.

The UPS driver had pulled over and gotten out, aghast at what he saw.

Grief stricken over what had happened, he found himself standing next to Tammy Bennett, the two of them hopeless.

"Please don't hate me," he begged, she said. "I'm so sorry."

She hugged him with forgiveness.

"For the UPS driver, it's such a horrible, horrible thing," Tammy Bennett recalled thinking. "How can I hate somebody who has to live with this for the rest of his life?"

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.