From the desk of Dora DePaoli: Remembering Tanner

September 28, 2001

Tanner Rothfleisch, 20, died in San Luis Obispo on Sept. 10, just one day before the shocking disasters in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Someone said Tanner beat the "traffic jam getting into heaven." I think he was taken to heaven early to help with the rush.

Tanner was killed while aiding a stranded motorist. After helping the female driver into his truck to safety, he stepped back to tend to her car and was hit by a woman in a Ford Bronco.

According to The Tribune, a newspaper in that area, the driver was arrested "on suspicion of second-degree murder and vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of a controlled substance."


Statistics show that good Samaritans who stop to help others with disabled vehicles often become victims of careless drivers. Until it happened to someone in our family it never made much of an impression. Tanner was the third child of my niece, Becky Nilson. I knew Tanner from the day he was born.

He was a thoughtful little guy, protective of his younger sisters. As a devoted 5-year-old he made sure they were well supplied with pacifiers. In one photo he had a couple in his chubby little hands and another two or three stashed in a lunch pail he liked to carry around.

But he stood up for himself when necessary. On the day of my daughter Mary's wedding he was the ring bearer. His sister Talia was the flower girl. Shortly before the ceremony, when both were dressed in their wedding finery, Tanner socked Talia for taking his piece of candy. Thanks to a little makeup, her black eye never showed up in the wedding photos.

Even as a child he was always industrious, whether playing in the sandbox with Tonka Toys as a child or taking care of the numerous animals he kept. He started driving a tractor on his grandfather's farm when he was only 9 years old. Most recently he worked in the geothermal industry with Performance Mechanical Contracting. He had just recently moved to San Luis Obispo with the intention of going back to college.

Academics didn't always grab his attention, but he was always mechanically inclined and took meticulous care of his tools. He could fix most anything. His father, Joe Rothfleisch, said he never knew what to expect when he came home. There would always be some old car in the driveway that Tanner was working on.

"Our driveway was always one big oil slick," he said.

The slide show at his memorial service brought back many memories for the nearly 600 people in the audience. As charming as he looked from infancy to adulthood in the photos, none could capture his kind spirit and wonderful sense of humor.

We all look forward to the day we will meet him in heaven. Over the last two weeks I have many times pictured the reunion in heaven between my late husband and Tanner. I can hear Tanner saying as he did as a child, "Hi ya, Umple Buck!"

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