A child was dead, killed by a reckless driver, and it appeared the culprit would go unpunished.
Then, Fred Lorenzen intervened, and justice was served.
This revelatory, little-known story was sent to me via email as a result of a column I wrote recently about Lorenzen, a NASCAR superstar in the 1960s.
Lorenzen won 26 races from 1961-66 with the storied Holman-Moody team. His victories included a sweep of the two major events at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1964 and the 65 Daytona 500.
Now 74, Lorenzen is afflicted with dementia and resides in an assisted-living facility in the Chicago area.
Fans of Lorenzen always have known him to be a man of admirable qualities.
Just how fine was revealed a few days ago in that email from Lorenzens longtime friend, Bernie Bernacki.
Bernie had received the story, in turn by email from the parents who lost their child in Elmhurst, Ill., Lorenzens hometown.
Here, unedited, is what they wrote
Fred Lorenzen should be remembered for more than just being a great race car driver. He was also a great humanitarian. The reason is as follows:
On September 5, 1975, our 4-year-old son, Robert, was on his big wheel bike in the middle of our driveway on Cayuga Avenue in Elmhurst. He was not on the street, but a reckless 17-year-old driver, in a hurry to get to a birthday party, hit Robert and our son died 7 hours later at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital. My wife went over to that boy's house to speak to the parents who were very protective of their son and refused to even say that he, or they, were sorry.
Although in a great state of shock and grief, we took up this tragedy with Mr. Andrew Hayden who was the Assistant State's Attorney for DuPage County at the time. There was a trial and the parents of the boy who killed our son obtained a character witness for the defense, a minister at a local church that the boy rarely attended - if at all.
Fred Lorenzen heard about this case and volunteered to be a character witness for the prosecution. He did this on his own without any involvement on our part. Fred stated that he had warned the boy, previous to September 5, about speeding around the neighborhood. He did this on more than one occasion.
Because of Fred's testimony about the previous driving behavior of this boy, he was convicted of a felony--reckless driving. Although the boy did not receive any jail time, his felony conviction of two years without driving and a $500 fine plus psychiatric evaluations was held up, even upon appeal.
The case probably would have wound up differently - not guilty, if it was not for Fred's intervention. Fred did this on his own without any input from us. We are truly grateful for his involvement and want the race car world to know what kind of man he really is.
Cayuga became a one-way street with two islands in late 1975. It remains the same today."
The email was written by Sharon and Steve Samuels of Elmhurst, IL.
No words I might write could would add to this poignant tribute to Fred Lorenzen.