Larry Weathers III could see the woman, right there in front of him. She was trapped in the spaghetti-like wreckage of a Subaru on Route 452, a car from which he had heard screams and smashing metal just moments before, in a crash that would echo in his mind for days. This was someone’s daughter. And she was probably dying.
He had just seen a drunk driver with five previous DUI convictions roar past his minivan and smash into the woman’s oncoming Subaru. Larry had ducked behind the steering wheel of his own car to avoid what had seemed like certain death for him, too. A Dodge Ram pickup had nearly run him off the road before killing the woman, breaking her husband’s pelvis, and turning Larry, a traumatized eyewitness, into the one soul on Earth who could later provide a sense of peace to the devastated families.
There, on the two-lane road near I-95 in Delaware County, shivering because he had left his coat at home for what was supposed to be a quick run to a Home Depot, all he could think about was this woman. A stranger.
Are you all right? he whispered. Over the next four hours, he prayed over her.
“I can never remember, even when I was in the military — anything that pierced my heart, my soul, my mind, my entire being like when there was that collaboration of noise from the vehicles and ...” Tears swallowed the rest of the former Navy man’s anguished sentence.
Larry spoke to me twice over the last two weeks from the same modest office inside Weathers Motors, where, almost exactly 10 years ago, I sat many times with him and his now-deceased father as they cried over the loss of their century-old Dodge dealership in Lima, Delaware County. I had spent 18 months getting to know and write about Weathers Dodge, a casualty of the near-collapse of the U.S. economy in the Great Recession, never imagining that another trauma could bring us back here on such a sad anniversary.
Larry didn’t know Deana Eckman before that night three weeks ago, though just about everyone in those parts, including Deana’s parents, had known the Weathers name. They knew what Chrysler did to Weathers Dodge in 2009. They thought it was just awful.
Larry didn’t know that this woman in the car had been born 6½ weeks premature. That her hospital heart monitor would go wild every time her mom approached the incubator 45 years ago. That she loved animals and had a dog named Chooch. He knew only that she had been in the car whose headlights he’d seen coming over a bridge — and toward the maniac in a souped-up truck who had caused it all.
“I couldn’t bear the thought of walking away from her and leaving her there just with the first responders around,” Larry said. He would stay, he decided, if only “to help witness and guide, and just see her as she launches herself off to heaven.”
“You know,” the 62-year-old continued, his face crumpling with tears, “it just made me sad.”
Much will be said in the months ahead about what happened on the 3300 block of Market Street around 9:20 p.m. on Feb. 16, in Upper Chichester, near the Pennsylvania border with Delaware. Why, for instance, was such a menace to the public welfare behind the wheel yet again?
A preliminary hearing for David Strowhouer, the 30-year-old charged with homicide by vehicle, is scheduled for Tuesday. Strowhouer, according to investigators, was driving someone else’s truck, even though his license had been suspended after a decade of drunken criminality across the suburbs of Philadelphia.
Asking the toughest questions will be Deana’s mother and father, Roseann and Richard DeRosa. They are on a “mission" to investigate Pennsylvania’s DUI laws, targeting people like their daughter’s alleged killer, even as they tangle with grief and rage.
Their son-in-law, Chris Eckman, is on crutches; rescuers removed him from behind the wheel but declared Deana dead at the scene minutes after impact.
“My husband and I are staying strong for our family,” Roseann told me Wednesday from the kitchen table of their Brookhaven home. “We’ve had our horrible moments. It feels like someone just came and ripped your heart out.”
Prayer, she said, had been a part of their lives up till now.
“I always prayed for whoever’s up there to watch over my children,” Roseann, a retired paralegal, said. Of three children, they put their two daughters through Catholic grade school and Cardinal O’Hara High School. “I prayed every night that everybody was kept safe. Got me nowhere.”
It was Larry Weathers, however, who would bring talk of God back to the DeRosa kitchen table. Last Sunday, barely two weeks after the crash, Roseann and Rich had him over. They wanted to know what happened that night.
Larry held nothing back.
Larry was driving south on 452, with Deana and Chris heading north. He heard a roar from behind. A souped-up engine or muffler making noise. In the rearview mirror of his Dodge Caravan, he saw headlights in the distance behind him. Quickly, the glare from the lights of a deafening pickup truck had reached his tail. The driver repeatedly accelerated all the way to his bumper, only to then coast. This happened over and over. Petrified, Larry thought its headlights were touching his window.
“I thought he was trying to run me off the road," he said. "I thought: ‘I have got no choice, I’ve got to keep moving. If I put my brakes on, this guy’s going to crash into my vehicle, ’cause there’s no way he’s going to be able to stop,’ ” he said. Maybe the guy had a gun. Larry was terrified.
Things only got worse. In his rearview now, the truck’s lights shifted to the left — and into the lane of oncoming traffic. The pickup pulled up alongside Larry.
“I’m still thinking, this guy’s going to pull out a gun and shoot me." Instead, the driver "puts the gas pedal down to the ground. And the noise of that truck ... I felt like my car shook, and my heart almost jumped out of my head.”
The pickup zoomed up the incline of a small bridge. Almost immediately, headlights from a 2019 Subaru poked over from the other side.
Larry threw an arm up over his face and ducked. The crash. The noise. The bloodcurdling screams. Larry’s van stopped. He touched his arms to see that he was alive. He gave chase when the pickup tried to get away. The truck came to a halt moments later with a broken axle right over the bridge, and Larry ran back to the scene.
He stayed by Deana’s side until 1 a.m.
He told all of this to Deana’s mom and dad.
“She had the look of peace, like an angel, even lying there in the car,” he told them. “That is a picture that will be in my mind for the rest of my life, despite all the horror.”
Larry and Deana’s mom then shared a long, warm hug.
Yes, some comfort, perhaps.
But the truth is more complex. Larry is having trouble driving and sleeping. Roseann, of course, feels empty and hopeless, as only a mother would. She fell to pieces the other day just remembering one of her daughter’s most beloved mantras.
“She always said, make time for your family,” Roseann said, crying, “because you never know when you’re not going to see them again.”