All that was visible on the road following that night several weeks ago when two men from our community died are the marks investigators leave on the ground following a fatal accident.
One of these men was well known in the community as a beloved friend to all and the other an avid motorcycle rider who served his country and was enjoying his twilight years.
September 15, 2018 was a quiet night for the most part, not much going on in Hinesville and the county as I listened to my police scanner which is set up in my TV room. That’s where I spend time relaxing on those rare occasions when I’m not chasing stories. A little before 7 p.m., I heard on the Hinesville frequency Hinesville Police Lt. Mike Gosseck tell his officers to seal off various intersections on West Oglethorpe Highway because Liberty County was in pursuit of a suspect allegedly traveling with speeds upwards of 100 mph. The call to close the intersection came across the radio when the suspect had just passed Liberty County High School. The Hinesville officers never got a chance to protect the public because by the time they arrived the suspect is reported to have blown through Hinesville in a flash. Jumping up from the couch I tried to catch the chase as they made their way past West Oglethorpe and Dunlevie Road. I made it to the intersection with a few minutes only to witness the blue lights of police cars fade into the distance. I decided to follow. I’m not going to admit to speeding, but I will say I was pushing it. Let me explain something in my thought process; I followed the chase because these type of events never end well for the suspect, who for whatever reason tries to outrun radio signals. And, it’s news.
I was several minutes away from Ludowici when the only transmission I heard was the suspect had wrecked. That was it, no follow-up, no excited voices that he bailed, only that he wrecked. Never in my wildest dreams, in all the years I’ve been reporting, would I imagine that I would have to put my emotions aside and report on one of the most heart breaking stories I’ve experienced since the bus accident which claimed the life of 5-year old Cambria Shuman in December 2017.
When I rolled up to the scene with my camera ready to shoot, I had no idea I had lost a friend. This was a man I had admired for his sense of humor and his love for the community he served. I, along with this community, lost Frank McClelland, a public servant with a heart of gold.
I still had no idea when, raising my camera to shoot, a plainclothes officer was screaming at the top of his lungs in grief as another plainclothes officer held him. They and this community had lost Frank.
I had no idea when I looked into the face of GSP Trooper Lyle Thurmond, and saw the grief on his face the magnitude of the situation, that he and this community had lost a friend. I squeezed Thurmond’s arm in a show of support as he told me, “Not now Lewis.” You see, Lyle comforted me when he told me a 5-year old was killed on her way to school. There was no easing the pain that night.
It’s my understanding that Frank was at home that fateful night. He was off duty, but then a city police chief is never really off duty, especially one who loved to be engaged. I heard he was listening to his police radio when the call came in of the chase headed in his direction. I’m told Frank sprang into action, jumped into his patrol car and drove to the intersection of McDonald Street and Highway 84 or Ga 38, as police refer to it. I’m told Frank was trying to stop cars crossing the intersection when he was allegedly struck by the driver, who officials say was traveling well over 100 mph. Frank never had a chance. His life ended on the streets of the city he loved and those streets now bare the faded markings of an ongoing investigation.
A few feet from where Frank crossed into eternity, Marvin Pope, a retired Army Master Sergeant, was riding his motorcycle eastbound on Highway 84 when he, too, faded into eternity after allegedly being struck by the driver who officials say was driving over 100 mph. When I asked if Pope was unfortunately at the wrong place at the wrong time, Long County Sheriff Craig Nobles murmured that he was.
Two lives were taken that September night: Frank and Marvin’s. One future was destroyed – that of the young suspect’s. The heart of a community was ripped from its core as Ludowici struggled to answer “Why did this happen?”
My heart constricted in pain when what happened finally sank in, and I realized the friend I had known since my early days of reporting was no longer there. No longer there for me to call to wish a Happy Birthday. No longer there to just shoot the breeze. No longer would the man I had come to love and respect and even admire, be there. He was a one of a kind human being. He would no longer be there to bring food or water to on the days we spent at an incident which would start at dawn and end under the stars. Reporters are never prepared for these things, but men like Frank always are.
I and many others wrote about Frank on Facebook, about what he had meant to us. I didn’t get a chance to digest the events the previous night since I was reporting it, so I wrote what I felt as a brief tribute. As I wrote the tears streamed down my face. I admit, the tears still fall on occasion for a man I called my friend and lost on that September night.
Lewis M. Levine