The Hazards of Serving the President, 3 Recent Deaths Examined

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Sun, September 23rd, 2012

One man was killed when a pickup truck ran him over on a highway in Florida. Another died when Libyan rebels attacked his compound with grenades and machine guns. What do these two deaths have in common? Both occurred in the past few weeks and both involved people serving the President.

Josephine “Ann” Harris, owner of a 24-hour restaurant in Akron, Ohio died of a heart attack just hours after meeting President Obama. “I’m sure this was her highlight,” said her sister. “She loved Obama.”

And then there is the Ohio great grandmother who had a heart attack after President Obama was served eggs and bacon at her 24-hour diner. It all goes to show that working for the President, whether it be directing traffic, negotiating with rebel armies or serving him breakfast can be a deadly job.

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U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed two weeks ago when rebels attacked the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya with grenade launchers and machine guns. “His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice,” said President Obama. “I am profoundly grateful for his service to my administration, and deeply saddened by this loss.” Stevens grew up in northern California and attended the University of California, Berkeley then joined the Peace Corps, where he worked for two years as an English teacher in a remote town in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. Later, he attended law school and the National War College. In 1991, he joined the Foreign Service, receiving postings in volatile locations across the Middle East and northern Africa, such as Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. From 2007 to 2009, during the rule of Moammar Gadhafi, Stevens served as the deputy chief of the U.S. mission to Libya. “He was the best of the best,” a colleague who worked with him in Israel told CNN.

In 2011, with the Arab Spring heating up and Libya in turmoil, Stevens was tapped by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to serve as the American envoy to the rebel opposition. He arrived on a cargo ship in the port of Benghazi and began building relationships with the revolutionaries who would eventually oust Gadhafi and take over the country. “Everywhere Chris and his team went in Libya they were hailed as friends and partners,” said Clinton. But one night two weeks ago militants wielding machine guns and rocket propelled grenades raided the consulate, shooting dead three Americans and setting fire to the compound. Stevens was rushed to the hospital, where a Libyan doctor tried for 90 minutes to revive him. In the end it was impossible, he died of severe asphyxiation due to smoke inhalation.

Just days earlier, another officer died in a very different line of presidential duty.  Obama’s motorcade was traveling along I-95 to a Florida campaign event and Bruce St. Laurent, of Jupiter, Florida, had been stationed ahead to help shut down the highway. He was struck and killed by a Ford F-150 pickup truck. It sounds benign but directing traffic is a lethal job for cops. Traffic fatalities were the leading cause of death for officers killed in the line of duty for 13 of the past 14 years, according to a spokesman for the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. And presidential motorcades are particularly tricky. Officers must “leap-frog” down a highway, quickly closing down sections of roadway then rushing past the president’s car to establish new roadblocks further ahead. More than a thousand police officers attended St. Laurent’s funeral. In order to honor him, Florida Governor Rick Scott had the lighthouse in the town where he had served illuminated in blue.

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You might expect directing highway traffic or serving in the foreign legion to be dangerous but serving Obama breakfast? On Friday July 6, the President stopped by Ann’s Place 24-Hour Restaurant in Akron, Ohio and ordered eggs, bacon and wheat toast. When his server suggested he try the grits, President Obama ordered some of that as well. The restaurant’s owner, 70 year old Josephine “Ann” Harris, along with her daughter and granddaughter, who both work at the restaurant, greeted the President. But Josephine wasn’t in top form, back in January she suffered a fall and shortly thereafter she had a heart attack, a stroke then another heart attack. Josephine spoke with President Obama inside the restaurant then joined him after breakfast for a family photo. “He treated us like one of the brothers,” she told reporters. “He hugged all of us.”

Back at home a few hours later Josephine complained of fatigue and a tingling feeling. She was rushed to the hospital where she was pronounced dead from a heart attack. Her family was sad for the death but happy she got to meet the President before she passed. “I’m sure this was her highlight,” said her sister. “She loved Obama.”

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