A car crash on a San Pablo freeway ripped a father and son away from a Napa household. But on Sunday, several hundred people joined the surviving family of Daryl and Joe Horn to remember them and the people they touched – and to show their loved ones need not grieve alone.
Packing the bleachers of the Vintage High School gymnasium and more than 400 seats on the basketball hardwood, relatives, friends and acquaintances gathered at a public memorial to remember Daryl, 50, and his 14-year-old youngest child, Joe – including those who had received baseball coaching from the father, or played ball or gone to school with his son.
At a lectern between two easel-mounted photos of father and son, Daryl Horn’s wife Denise spoke of “my sweet boy Joe” and his ability to “enjoy every moment of every day,” then turned to the special touch her husband had as a longtime youth baseball coach in Napa, preparing athletes for much more than sporting excellence.
“My husband’s true gift was in coaching, (in) correlating everything into life lessons,” she said. “He could show young boys and girls how to be the best people they could be. He had his Daryl-isms: ‘Be a good citizen,’ which he said a lot – ‘Always pick up your neighbor’ – and my favorite saying of his, ‘Baseball doesn’t develop character; it reveals character.’
“I can see the character of my husband in this community now. He may have lived in Napa for only 15 years, but when I look around this room, I can see that he’s left a mark.”
“We have a long way to go, but you have all placed us on the path toward healing.”
Numerous friends and acquaintances embraced, and sniffles were heard in the seats, during the memorial that took place eight days after the Horns and two relatives died in the five-vehicle, hit-and-run wreck on Interstate 80 in San Pablo. Among those in the audience were members of the UC Berkeley baseball team for which Daryl Horn’s older son, Jared, is a sophomore pitcher, as well as schoolmates of Joe, who was an eighth-grader at Redwood Middle School.
Also killed in the Nov. 25 crash were 52-year-old Troy Biddle of Bainbridge Island, Washington, Daryl Horn’s brother-in-law, and Biddle’s 12-year-old son Baden.
The four were in a car that 19-year-old Jared Horn – the only survivor in the vehicle – was driving back from the father-and-son Oyster Basketball Tournament in San Carlos.
Contra Costa County prosecutors have charged Fred Lowe, 47, of Sacramento on suspicion of four counts of murder in the crash.
Daryl Horn had gained local renown for his work with the Napa Little League as well as the Napa Valley Baseball Club, CYO, and Napa Parks and Recreation youth basketball. Joe was on the Redwood school’s honor roll with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average, and also played youth football for the Napa Saints, winning All-Star honors as a center.
But on Sunday, the most moving memories were more personal experiences away from the athletic fields.
An emotional Greta Horn thought back to the burgeoning signs of maturity her younger brother had shown toward the end of his too-short life – and of the goodness he will never get to share as an adult.
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“He’d been transforming in the last few months – his face changed from a baby face to the beginnings of a jaw line,” Greta, 21, said of Joe, who had become an inch and a half taller than his big sister after a growth spurt. “The only thing that didn’t change was that he was so mature, so funny and warm.
“Joseph had so much life and so much joy left to give. He gave me unconditional love, sore abs from causing laughter, and most importantly, hope. I told many people – but never got to tell him – Joe was my heart. I lived my life for Joe. And that won’t ever change; I will live my life for Joe.”
Jared Horn, who was briefly hospitalized after the crash before returning home to Napa, appeared mostly unmarked physically. But the agony of his sudden loss was evident as he tried to express what father and brother had meant to him.
“I stayed up late on this speech – it’s the hardest essay I’ve ever been assigned,” a black-suited Jared told the audience. “It’s hard, man …” he whispered, voice breaking. “My brother was my best friend. Joe was a great brother, and he was going to be a really great man. And I am deeply hurt that I won’t get to experience being a man with my best friend.
“Joe was going to be a fantastic man – because of my dad,” continued Jared, who called Daryl “my coach, my teacher, my catch partner, my everything.”
Turning to his mother and sister, he promised: “I’m gonna be strong for you, and for Dad, for Joe, for Baden and for Troy. I’m going to be strong.” The clapping of a standing ovation echoed through the gym as the family embraced tightly, in front of the baseball jerseys bearing the names of father and younger son.
Others who came to know and befriend Daryl Horn from his early years in the Antelope Valley city of Lancaster and later Novato, or his time as a college baseball player with Sacramento State, shared tales of how effortlessly he seemed to become a loyal friend and mentor to so many – coining catchy nicknames for players and chums, regularly checking in on them, or forging friendships through sports fandom or lengthy karaoke nights.
“Daryl was an artist – an artist in how he approached life,” said Brian Earley, Daryl Horn’s longtime friend and the presenter at the Sunday memorial. “He put so much effort into what he did. The result is by no means complete, but it’s still a masterpiece, when we are all just doodlers.”
“He loved people, and nothing made him happier than to see those connections take place,” said Kirk Smith, a marketing director for Six Flags Discovery Kingdom who knew Daryl for 38 years.
Then Smith asked the audience: “Anyone who got to know Daryl from when he was in Lancaster, please stand up or raise your hand.” Ten people rose from their chairs, followed by others who stood up when Smith called out the other places Daryl had lived and worked and taught: Sacramento, Novato and finally Napa.
Finally, Smith asked: “Anyone here who was a friend of Daryl who’s not already standing, please stand up.”
In seconds, nearly every man, woman and child in the area was on their feet.
In a few seconds more, they were clapping.