Josh Shaffer

Goodbye to Harold Smith, killed in a wheelchair on Easter

Harold Smith
Harold Smith

The car struck Harold Smith late on Easter morning, just outside the Save-A-Lot grocery, colliding as he chugged along on his motorized scooter.

It hit him just nine blocks from his house on Tipton Street. He shares a duplex there with his son and his girlfriend, he was carrying food home for a holiday cookout.

The car crashed into him near Raleigh and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards, an intersection he crossed often, where he was an elderly fixture in the neighborhood.

Police haven’t finished their investigation of the accident that killed Smith, 75. A search warrant seeks to know whether the driver of the 2002 Lexus had been texting and whether Smith had been drinking.

However the case shakes out, I thought Raleigh should know more about the man who, to me, died one of its saddest deaths so far this year: a man who had had a stroke, who used a wheelchair to get around, who was run down on the holiest day of the Christian calendar.

I wish some piece of luck had made me take notice of Smith’s life, some lottery ticket or sweepstakes win. It would be sweeter if he’d found his way into the newspaper for the first time because of some Samaritan deed or right place-right time windfall. We get a lot of those.

Instead, I’ll tell you what his son, James Robinson, said when I knocked on the door, still decorated with pastel-colored bows: “He was an outstanding dad, man.”

Harold Smith worked as a roofer, a trade he taught his son. He loved to play card games. “We didn’t gamble,” his son told me. “We played spades. Like cutthroat.”

He enjoyed watching Westerns, and he loved to fish. I asked for his favorite spot, lakes or the Neuse River, and James told me, “Can’t neither one of us swim, so we try not to get around too much water.”

It’s not my intent to disparage the dead, but Smith got in trouble sometimes. He had a record, though not a long or a serious one. His address comes up as “anywhere” on some of his court papers.

But it’s clear the man was loved. His funeral notice includes a long list of family and friends, including a host with colorful nicknames that made me smile: “Slick” Hammond, “Pee” Powell, Chilly Willy. He didn’t like being photographed, so the funeral program used the picture from his driver’s license.

“He saw the road was getting rough and the hills were hard to climb,” read a poem on the program. “So he closed your weary eyelids and whispered, ‘Peace be thine.’ 

Smith was traveling east to west, outside of the crosswalk. The car that struck him did not brake before impact, and police said the driver had a clear view. No charges have been filed as the investigation continues.

But while Raleigh sorts through the sour details of this man’s end, I wince to think of the common, brutal and avoidable nature of deaths like his – thieves of everyday life. Peace to you, Harold Smith.

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