The rock came through the windshield like a cannonball.
Steve Amthor and his friend Kenneth (Kenny) White were on I-75, outside of Flint, just 5 minutes from home, on Oct. 18 when it hit: A six-pound rock, thrown from an overpass. It came smashing through the windshield of the van traveling at expressway speeds.
White, who was in the passenger seat, was struck in the head and chest.
Amthor pulled over to the side of the freeway, still unsure what had happened. It was only after he had stopped the car and walked over to White's side that understood the gravity of the situation. He tried to save his friend's life. There wasn't much he could do.
One minute White was trying to check the score of the Yankees-Astros baseball game, the next minute he was dying.
"It just happened so fast," Amthor said. "It was something I'd never want to go through again or for anyone to go through again."
It was a tragedy made all the more gripping, and simultaneously grotesque, by the circumstances. While police originally believed White had been struck by a chunk of cement that had fallen from the freeway overpass, it was later determined that the culprit was far more insidious: teenagers throwing rocks.
Five Flint-area boys, between the ages of 15 and 17, have been charged with second-degree murder in White's death. They face up to life in prison if convicted.
While the incident has been catapulted to the national spotlight, for Amthor, the weight of the event is something he's still trying to process. How does one come to grips with watching their friend die?
The 49-year-old Amthor and the 32-year-old White had grown close in the two years they worked together as handymen.
"He was like a son to me. He told me one time he was lucky to have such a good dad and me," Amthor told the Free Press in a phone interview Sunday. "I never really treated him like a worker, it was more of a friendship that we had."
So Amthor is struggling, never knowing what little thing might trigger memories of the tragedy. Maybe he'll walk outside and see a project he and Kenny worked on together. Or perhaps he'll reach for his phone to tap-out a text, and remember there's nobody there to respond. It's the most mundane moments that modulate his mood and make him remember.
"I don't think the full effect has hit me yet," Amthor said. "One day I'll feel depressed and not want to do nothing, others I will. It's up and down right now."
And even though he knows the incident was not his fault, it's hard not to feel blame. For example, the decision to grab a bite to eat before hitting the road — a choice that placed Amthor's van right in the line of the rock at 8:30 p.m. that Wednesday.
The day had started like so many others: Amthor and White heading somewhere for a project. In this case, the two had gone up north for the day to work on a friend's cabin.
That evening they were driving back to Flint when Amthor decided they should stop for dinner.
White had wanted to get home to his fiance Amiee Cagle and their 5-year-old son, but Amthor insisted. So they paused for a quick bite to eat, grabbing sandwiches in Au Gres.
The stop was short. And on any other occasion, it would have been nothing more than a footnote on the journey. But now it rests heavy in Amthor's mind.
"It’s a blame game. 'Why not me?' 'Why did I stop for dinner?' 'Why did I talk him into stopping for dinner?' You know that type of thing," Amthor's friend Krystal Hardy-Loudan explained. "He’s really doing some struggling."
Hardy-Loudan and Amthor's wife, Missy, are working tirelessly to support White's family as well as Amthor.
"He is suffering from serious trauma," Hardy-Loudan said. "He needs to talk about it. He needs to get it out and he’s not sleeping right now. He’s probably going to go see a doctor when things settle down. Everything is just so busy right now. He was in court yesterday with the dad for the arraignment. He’s gotten called down to the sheriff's department umpteen times."
Adding to the weight of the trauma is the fact that Amthor has few things to distract him; his van, and therefore his means for getting work done are tied up in the investigation. It could be years before it comes home.
A small gesture in such a crazy time, Hardy-Loudan created a GoFundMe campaign to help Amthor buy a new van.
"I’ve seen pictures of the inside, it looks like a gory movie," she said. "It’s really bad. Even if that vehicle was released in months, how would you ever be able to get in it again?"
So far, they've raised $1,475.
"Krystal has been just a rock, she's one in a million. I'm glad she's on my side," Amthor said, noting that he hadn't seen the GoFundMe page yet, or any of the interviews he's done.
Talking about the tragedy has been encouraged by his wife and friends like Hardy-Loudan — a form of therapy in their eyes — but for Amthor the actual act of processing it all is still difficult to comprehend.
For the time being, he's taking it one step at a time — being grateful for what he does have and being sure to do his best to stand by friend's family as well.
"I just keep praying for the family and the fiance and the 5-year-old," he said. "I told the fiance that as long as I am alive, that boy will have birthday presents and Christmas presents every year."
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