Carl Murtagh Epitaph
Letter to the Editor
Malone Evening Telegram
by Gerald H. Murtagh, father of Carl Murtagh
Shortly after Carl's death July 1993
Son Gave A Lot Before His Death
To the editor:
During the past week there has been much speculation in the papers as to why my son Carl Murtagh took his own life.
I have just received a copy of the police report showing that Carl's blood alcohol count was .38 (at .10 you are DWI and at .40 you are dead)l; also a urine alcohol count of .426 (at .10 you are DWI). This count shows that his body was retaining the alcohol instead of getting rid of it
The police told me that if Carl had fallen asleep, he would have died of alcoholic poisoning and that the only way he could have survived was if he had vomited and got rid of some the alcohol that way. But, even then, he would probably have sustained extensive brain damage. They wondered how anyone could reach that blood alcohol level without passing out first.
I would expect that most of your readers have seen several people drinking in a bar in a friendly, sociable manner. At some point the alcohol would hit one of them and he would want to fight. This was Carl's reaction when he drank to excess.
Now for some background on Carl. When he was a young baby, he could not tolerate milk, so he was fed on soy-bean drink. He had very sensitive skin which if touched by nylon or rayon would break out just as if he had contacted a hot iron. This situation gradually cleared up with medical help as he grew older.
When he started school, his handwriting was not very good. A primary teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He told her a doctor. She said, "You've certainly got the handwriting for it.n One night he stayed up late and very carefully wrote out his homework. The next day, the teacher asked him who had done it for him and refused to believe it was his work. From then on Carl didn't bother much about his handwriting.
Carl was a natural athlete and very much a team player. In Little League baseball he had a very strong arm and could throw a strike from center field to home plate. When he was catching and attempting to throw out someone stealing second base, he threw so hard that often the second baseman couldn't hold the ball. He didn't go out for high school baseball because they spent so much time in conditioning. He preferred to have his time to fish and hike.
In high school he made the varsity basketball team and after spending more time in basketball than in class and being given little or no opportunity to play in the games, he had an argument with the coach and quit the team and started working in a grocery store part-time. About this time he started drinking. He was big for his age and had no diffculty buying alcohol even though he was only 16.
When Carl was about 9 years old, I told him that mowing with the riding lawn mower would help him in learning to drive the car. After that I couldn't keep him off the lawn mower. He quickly leamed to drive the tractors and when he was 14, we let him drive the car in our back meadow. On his 16th birthday he was waiting for the courthouse to open to get his learner's permit. Then he got into the car and drove home with me. One week later he had his driver's license. He was a responsible driver, never a speeder.
When our children were small, I had a good job that paid enough that my wife was able to stay home with the children until they were all in school. When she returned to work, she provided them with the extras: skating, skiing, swimming, music lessons, skidooing, snowing, non-stop chauffeuring, and unlimited love. As a family we took trips to the major cities in the area and spent summers at our camp on Chateaugay Lake. We were a happy loving family and our children all turned out to be caring productive citizens.
After high school Carl went to Canton ATC. Our incomes were too high for student aid, and with our oldest also in college, he took out a student loan. We offered to help pay off his student loan, but he declined. While totally supporting himself on a salary that was limited, he succeeded in paying off his loan without help.
While I was stationed in Montreal, I invited him to join us and get his electrical engineering degree at McGill. He was too proud and declined. Just this summer he was accepted at a Utica college to begin work on his bachelor's degree. His employers told me he was the best electronic technician they had and he had just been promoted to supervisor at a $15,000 raise in salary. After living in small basic apartments for years, he was about to start construction on the log cabin he had always wanted. He had never had it so good in his life and it is indeed tragic that he couldn't have lived to enjoy his good fortune.
Considerable good has already come from his death. Our family has been drawn closer to God and to each other. We have met some incredibly caring loving people who reached out to us in our sorrow. Our neighbors and friends have poured out their kindness and sympathy. Two carloads of his softball team came to the wake and four of his co-workers came to the funeral. This was an 8-hour drive round-trip.
Carl was sober most of the time, but when he started drinking, he just couldn't seem to stop. Over the years alcohol had been creeping up on Carl and sometimes taking control. Carl was a big strong man, but alcohol was stronger. It wasn't the gun that killed; it was the alcohol.
At 17 he was involved in a fight with 2 or 3 opponents and his nose was broken with a tire iron. I told him he would have to stop drinking. He couldn't and I was powerless to stop him.
Despite the tragic end, knowing Carl has been a positive experience. He did a lot in his short life. Our happy memories far outweigh the sad ones. The world is a better place because he has lived. We've known so much of happiness. We've had our cup of joy and memory is one gift of God that death cannot destroy.
Gerald H. Murtagh
My own memories of Carl
Carl was very athletic. We often went biking together along with Warren Prue and Curtis Manchester. He could throw rocks and balls further than anyone else I knew as well as use a sling quite well. He liked trapping during the winter, loved eating leeks, and could sharpen a knife far better than I -- so sharp he could shave with it. He was one of my best friends from 4th grade through 10th grade. We were both somewhat independent and marched to the beat of our own drummers.
Carl was very bright. Mrs Murtagh, his mother and the history teacher at Chateaugay Central, had both of us take Geometry (10th grade math) and Trigonometry/Pre-Calc (11th grade math) during our 10th grade at Chateaugay Central. Thus we both caught up to the more advanced students at a larger nearby high school in preparation for transferring there. We also took the PSAT's one year in advance of the normal time as practice so that we could do better the second time. The next year, we transferred together to Franklin Academy, the public high school in Malone, NY. Franklin Academy had greater academic opportunities for us than Chateaugay. We actually got the best of both schools.
It was during these 2 years at Franklin Academy that our lives headed in somewhat different directions. Carl became less inclined academically while I excelled. We spent significantly less time together although we kept up our friendship to a degree.
At a party after our senior graduation dinner, I recall that Carl got so drunk that Alicia Lamitie hid his keys from him so that he would not drive his pickup home. He got rather violent at the time, but luckily did not injure anyone seriously. It was a scary incident.
If circumstances had worked out differently I believe Carl could have made it into an Ivy League school. I was somewhat disappointed and surprised when he went to Canton ATC. After high school we fell out of touch.
When I learned of his death, I was very sad that such an intellectually and athletically talented person, as well as a good friend, could end up in such a situation. Yet the seeds of his demise were evident during high school 10 years earlier.
Tim Oey, November 2000
Copyright © 2000 Timothy S. Oey.
Permission granted to reprint or excerpt as long as it is attributed to Timothy S. Oey.
Last updated 2000/11/24