On This Spring Day, Tragedy In Our Midst

The Scene--County currents and undercurrents

April 03, 1991|By James M. Coram

Despite what metaphysical poet John Donne tells us, most people do not live their lives feeling diminished by the deaths of strangers.

For the unaware, the world continues without end -- just as it did last week when a young Columbia Association employee drowned in Lake Elkhorn.

The day started beautifully. Rain had been forecast, but the dawncame warm and clear.

The only sign of the approaching front was awest wind whipping across the lake.

That wind capsized the canoe that 21-year-old Michael Hubbard and his 23-year-old co-worker had found irresistible at about 9 o'clock that morning. Hubbard's co-workerswam to shore. Hubbard didn't make it.

For many who frequent the lake every day, the search for Michael Hubbard's body was hardly noticed.

People fished and jogged and walked their dogs and strolled with their babies.

Occasionally, they would stop and stare -- especially when the TV crews arrived.

One group gathered on a point of land and sat and talked and laughed as they might on any other fine day, looking out at white caps on the water.

From time to time their laughter would float across rescue crews desperately trying to locate Hubbard soon so they could attempt to resuscitate him.

On any other day, the laughter would have been lyrical. That day, it was macabre.

The hope that Hubbard would soon be found quickly faded. The pain of losing him was intensified by the fact that he was so close to shore -- 40 feet by some estimates -- when last seen.

Two young women, Marti Sandler and Barbara Gambrill, decided the least they could do was bring hot coffee to the rescuers. They did, gallons of it.

"A gift from Paula at Hardee's," they said.

Shortly afterward, the divers came. Those close to the rescue attempt knew it was the end. The watching and waiting was over.

Nothing left now but the tedious and difficult task of combing the lake inch by inch.

Hardly spectacular, it was hardly noticed -- once frenetic activity slowed toa crawl.

The lunchtime crowd now taking possession of the lake was unaware of anything amiss.

Rescuers, the press, the merely curious who stayed the morning knew differently.

On this supposed-to-be-perfect day, John Donne had been proved right. A young man, previously unknown to most of them, had died. And their lives were forever diminished.

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