Blood drive honors fallen firefighters
Zac Sweitzer always looked up to Rodney Miller, viewing the close family friend as more of an older brother.
"He wanted to be a firefighter because of Rodney," said Zac's mother, Missy Sweitzer.
So he did, becoming a volunteer firefighter in Loganville, where Miller was his chief.
But then over the course of four and a half years, both men were killed by drunken drivers along Interstate 83 — Zac Sweitzer on Thanksgiving 2008 at age 20, and Miller in April 2013 at age 45.
A blood drive in the memory of the two firefighters will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at the Grace Fellowship Church, 1405 Seven Valleys Road in North Codorus Township.
The Sweitzers organized the first of the now seven annual blood drives on the Black Friday after Thanksgiving 2009. His mom said it continued her son's "legacy about life."
"Hosting a blood drive was what I felt was a great way to honor and remember him — to remember the lives he saved through his decision to be an organ donor," she said, adding that the first drive drew 102 first-time blood donors.
Six people ultimately received Sweitzer's organs, and several other people were helped by his tissue and bone donations, according to the Red Cross.
Miller also donated tissue, which went to numerous people.
Holding a blood drive in Miller's honor is kind of funny, Sweitzer said, but fitting.
"Rodney hated donating blood," she said, remembering her friend with a laugh. She said he didn't like needles — "he'd turn white" when confronted with one.
But around Thanksgiving 2009, when the Sweitzers held the first blood drive in Zac's honor, Miller signed right up.
"He hated it, but he did it," she said. "He did it for Zac."
The crashes: Zac Sweitzer died a few days after the crash, which was caused by Christina M. Ohl, who was 19 at the time of the crash.
She pleaded guilty to homicide by vehicle and other charges in 2010 and was sentenced to six months in York County Prison, followed by house arrest and then probation.
Miller was fatally stuck by a vehicle at the Glen Rock exit of the highway as he directed traffic away from a crash on April 27, 2013. Matthew Scott Diehl, 33, of Shrewsbury Township, was found guilty in November 2014 of homicide by vehicle while DUI and related charges in the chief's death. He was sentenced to 9.5 to 19 years in a state correctional facility.
Missy Sweitzer's Thanksgivings had been big, boisterous events of 80 to 100 people before the 2008 crash sucked some of the joy out of that day.
"(On Thanksgiving,) you’re supposed to think about all the blessings and all the good things in your life," she said. "But it’s hard when you’re looking at that empty chair at your table."
But, as his mother said Zac would have wanted, the Sweitzers have made sure the bitter isn't without some sweet.
"We cry, but we laugh," she said. "We share Zac memories."
— Reach Sean Cotter at firstname.lastname@example.org.