Keenan: Special anguish of parents of hit, run victims

Marney Rich Keenan
The Detroit News

Correction: Michael Curley, 26, was killed in a hit-and-run in Ann Arbor while bicycling home from a downtown restaurant. His name was incorrect in a previous version.

As the father of a 13-year-old daughter who was struck by a hit-and-run driver and died over the weekend, Habetamu Dirba’s anguish could not be more heartbreaking.

Julie and Paul Tsatsos are suffering the loss of their two sons. Ryan, 18, (in photos) was killed by a hit-and-run driver Saturday, and Darryl, 19, was killed in car crash three months ago.

“Why, why, why, why,” he wailed. “Even if we hit a little animal, we stop. This is a human being.”

On the morning of Oct. 28 , Helina Dirba, a Waverly High School ninth-grader in Lansing, decided to walk to school after she missed the bus. Twenty minutes later, her father left the house to drive to the store and happened upon the accident scene.

“It was crowded all around my neighborhood,” said Habetamu Dirba, an Ethiopian native. “When I parked, two people came to me and they say: ‘Are you Mr. Dirba?’ Then, they hold my hand and say ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

He agonizes over why a person would flee after hitting a child.

“We all can get in accidents one day, but we can’t run away,” Habetamu Dirba said. “Whatever happened, I still believe that driver could have stopped for a minute and call 911, and maybe we see our daughter’s last time eyes open.”

A recent spate of deadly hit-and-runs took four out of five lives over a four-day span on Halloween weekend, from Oct. 28-31. What caused the terrible frequency is not known, but five families in Lansing, Troy, Pittsfield Township, Macomb and Ann Arbor received some of the worst news of their lives. They now grapple with the haunting anguish of hit-and-run victims: What kind of person would leave someone to die by the side of the road?

Helina lived for two days. On Friday, the day she died, 68-year-old Hector Arroyo was charged with involuntary homicide-manslaughter with a vehicle, driving with a suspended license causing death, and failure to stop at the scene of a crash causing injury or death. He faces up to 15 years if convicted.

Hebatamu Dirba said he wanted people to know Helina had a beautiful smile, loved being in the choir at St. Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the pop group New Direction and her two little brothers. When he asked Helina how she was going to communicate with other kids if she didn’t study her English, she said: “ ‘Daddy, ‘I’m just going to laugh! And they will laugh, too!’ ”

The night before Helina was struck, 26-year-old Michael Curley had just finished up work at Hunter House Hamburgers in downtown Ann Arbor and was riding home on his bike to his Pittsfield Township home that he shared with his girlfriend and young son. He never made it.

Curley’s body was found around 2 a.m. Oct. 28 on Washtenaw Avenue near Brockton Boulevard. The following day, Ann Arbor police announced they arrested a 25-year-old Ypsilanti Township man (charges were pending at press time).

On Friday morning, a 17-year-old Troy High School student was riding his bike to school on Northfield Parkway when a SUV struck him, sending him into the ditch. Police said the driver did not stop because he doesn’t have a driver’s license. The student was in critical, but stable condition at an area hospital

On Saturday night — Halloween — a 14-year-old girl was hit by multiple vehicles while trick-or-treating near Ann Arbor. Police said the Ypsilanti Township girl was struck about 9 p.m. by a man who stopped and called 911. But another vehicle struck her while she was lying in the road. That driver dragged her nearly 2 miles before she became dislodged. The girl was transported to an area hospital where she was listed in critical, but stable condition, police said. Police are still seeking the driver and vehicle that dragged the girl.

Also on Halloween night, shortly after midnight, Ryan Tsatsos, 18, died after being struck by a hit-and-run driver as he walked to a residence hall with friends at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Ryan’s death could not be more tragic. It was the second inexplicable loss for Paul and Julie Tsatsos of Macomb, whose oldest son, Darryl Tsatsos, 19, was killed three months earlier on July 26 in a three-car collision in Macomb Township.

On Monday afternoon, as TV news trucks swarmed outside the Tsatsos home, at least a dozen friends, co-workers and fellow church members gathered in the kitchen, laying out food and doing their best to console the now-childless couple.

“To lose both kids so fast, I feel like I’m living in a dream, that I’m going to wake up and this is not happening,” Julie Tsatsos said, sitting on the couch next to her husband.

Both said they are relying on their Catholic faith to sustain them.

“We have to believe that Ryan and Darryl are up there together,” she said, “and that somehow God is going to carry us through this.”

Still, Paul Tsatsos said they are tormented by the knowledge that whoever killed their son has not gone to the police.

“My son was 195 pounds of solid muscle,” he said. “Even if someone was blind drunk, there is no way they would wake up the next day, not see the damage on their car, not see it all over the news and Facebook. How can you know that you killed someone and not want to make it right?”