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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Blood, sweat, tears and newsprint -- remembering Berkeley doctoral students Giulia Adesso, Benjamin Boussert and Jason Choy

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2007 at 4:55 PM

Blink and you missed it.

In the inner recesses of last Saturday's Chronicle were six paragraphs noting that one of two bastards -- sorry, alleged bastards -- accused of flipping over a big rig while racing on the I-80 and dooming three U.C. Berkeley doctoral students to a nightmarish, fiery death had been arrested. The Alameda County District Attorney's office told me the second man is now behind bars as well; that doesn't seem to have made the papers at all.

In its limited way, the article is perfect. It is as clean as Giulia Adesso, Benjamin Boussert and Jason Choy's deaths were dirty. It recalls something former Chronicle sports editor Art Rosenbaum mentioned to me just before he died at age 91. Writing a daily column for damn near 30 years was an amazing feat, but he didn't see it that way. He laughed and compared it to a satisfying bowel movement.

Whether it's a highway crash, a shooting at a family Thanksgiving celebration, or the latest horrors from Iraq, reporters are trained to quickly digest human tragedies and convert them into the odd, formal staccato of news writer English (it's easy to sound like a '40s newsreel narrator when reading news briefs; try it sometime and amuse your friends).

For myriad reasons, this kind of writing is an exercise in detachment. After all, you can't wade into the human implications of every story. But sometimes you can't help it.

Adesso, Boussert and Choy's memorial service was every bit as dour as you'd expect of an affair commemorating the lives of three much-loved, top-notch science grad students cut down, literally, in a flash. But one moment stood out. Boussert's father, a Paris-born Louisianan, overheard a fellow French speaker across the room. He regaled her with tales of his son's life for 10 minutes, laughing and gesticulating wildly. It sounded like a hell of a story.

"You must have spoken French with Ben," he said in the Lingua Franca. She paused, awkwardly. No, she admitted. She never met Ben. She was a friend of Giulia's.

The smile vanished from his face. She didn't know his son and never would. He sank into a nearby couch and wept bitter tears. I left.

There's a moment like this behind almost every piddly-dink story in every paper in the country. Sometimes it's good to be reminded of this. Sometimes you wish you could forget. --Joe Eskenazi

Related: Three College of Chemistry graduate students die in tragic freeway accident

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