Ray Duckler: Alicia Leatherman of Concord recalls her best friend
Danny Hewey plays with the sons of his former roommate, Alicia Leatherman, Marcus and Ethan. Hewey died in a fire last weekend in Webster.
Alicia Leatherman sugarcoats nothing while discussing Danny Hewey, the friend she lost recently when a controlled fire burst into a fireball.
Yes, Hewey hated authority figures. No, he never finished high school. Yes, he had a temper. No, he might not trust you, at least not until he’d finished his own personal screening process.
But then, in her South End apartment, with her two little sons and her two cats and her parrot, Leatherman hands you a picture snapped two years ago that, in this case, is worth a lot more than 1,000 words.
It shows Hewey, big, burly and dressed in black, holding Leatherman’s youngest, Marcus, a baby at the time. It shows Hewey’s big right arm cradling little Marcus, and his big left arm placing a baby bottle into Marcus’s mouth.
Leatherman’s older son, Ethan, is close by in the photo, hand on Hewey’s knee, big smile for the camera.
“That’s Uncle D.,” Ethan, now 3, said this week, pointing toward the picture.
Leatherman sighs and leans back on the couch. “I haven’t broken the news to Ethan yet,” she says. “Lots of people thought they were father and son. I tell Ethan that Uncle D. is away on a big job.”
Uncle D. died Feb. 18, at
age 20. Burning brush to clear room so Leatherman, his best friend and roommate, could store her camper, Hewey poured gasoline on a fading fire in a friend’s backyard.
The force from the ensuing explosion pushed heat into Hewey’s throat and lungs as he gasped for air. He died about three hours later at Concord Hospital, still conscious through the early part of the ordeal.
Leatherman wasn’t at the backyard fire, but she was at the hospital when her friend died.
“I’m trying to re-live my life again without him, and it’s extremely hard,” said Leatherman, 21. “I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. I feel that my life is so empty without him, because we’re not doing anything together. I just got back to work.”
She’s an office manager at a furnace, water boiler and air installation and repair service in Boscawen.
‘If my friend trusts him,
I trust him’
She met Hewey a few years back, at the McDonald’s drive-thru on Fisherville Road. With a friend driving and Ethan cradled in her arms, she saw a big guy arguing with the police near his truck, the one with graffiti all over it, plywood for floors and a broken passenger-side door.
She later learned that Hewey’s friend had fallen out of the truck near the parking lot because of that busted door and was spotted by the cops, who then towed his truck away.
“My friend driving knew Danny,” Leatherman said, laughing. “Danny came over and asked if he could store his stuff in the car and get a ride.
“Then a female cop comes over and says you don’t want someone like that riding in your vehicle with a newborn baby. I told her that if my friend trusts him, I trust him . . . . But I still thought he was crazy.”
A friendship was born. Hewey and Leatherman lived together, first in Warner, next, more recently, at their South End apartment, where Leatherman is raising her two boys with her fiance.
Through the past few years, Leatherman and Hewey developed a platonic relationship that some never understood. Boyfriends disliked the bond the two shared.
“They didn’t like me hanging out with him,” Leatherman said. “I had a boyfriend living with me in Warner when Danny moved in. He didn’t like me going anywhere with Danny. He hated him living there, and I said, ‘Danny is staying, and if you have a problem with that, you can leave.’ He was my best friend.”
Hewey was always there for Leatherman. There at a Boston hospital, when her younger son, Marcus, who has Down syndrome, needed heart surgery. There in court, when Leatherman needed help securing child support payments. There at the convenience store, for those late-night runs for diapers. There at home, if Leatherman and her fiance needed a night out.
Meanwhile, Leatherman says she helped guide a young man who lacked certain social skills, who was self conscious about his size and who hated having his picture taken. She drove him around after he lost his license, filled out paperwork for him, showed him how to pay bills and made scrap metal runs with him to her office.
Scrap metal and machinery gave Hewey a source of income, as he sold items to junkyards and got paid by the pound. He also loved working on his six vehicles, storing them on his friend’s property in Webster.
It was there that a freak accident killed Hewey. He poured gasoline into a pit, trying to rekindle the fire. The heat funneled into his body, leaving the group, which included Hewey’s 18-year-old brother, Douglas, panicked and confused over what to do.
Douglas’s girlfriend called Leatherman, who said she could hear Hewey screaming in the background. “She’s telling me that all he’s saying is he wants to see Alicia, he needs to see Alicia,” Leatherman said.
‘After Danny, I don’t want another roommate’
She raced to the scene, but had to make a U-turn once the ambulance passed her going the other way. She followed it to Concord Hospital and, along with family members, visited Hewey. This week, she took out her cell phone to retrieve the picture she’d snapped at that moment, showing black burns on Hewey’s red face, and an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth.
An ambulance tried to bring Hewey to Boston for specialized treatment, but Leatherman says his heart stopped before making it to Clinton Street, so she and the ambulance returned to Concord Hospital.
The announcement came soon after, as did a grieving process that’s still too fresh. “After Danny, I don’t want another roommate,” Leatherman said. “I trusted Danny.”
She adds that she’s happy she got to see him one more time, to be there when he needed her, on her first trip to the hospital.
“He looked at me and I told him I was there,” Leatherman said. “At that moment, you could see the relief in his eyes.”