Halberstam’s Widow, Awaiting Word on Accident Probe, Recounts ‘Amazing’ Tributes to Him

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By: Joe Strupp

Two and a half weeks after the tragic death of Author David Halberstam in a California car accident, authorities there have still not completed their investigation of the incident, even though they initially said it would be completed last week.

But Halberstam’s widow, Jean, said she is glad investigators are taking time to get all of the facts.

“I am grateful for them taking so much care to get it right, getting as many witnesses as they can,” Halberstam told E&P Thursday. “As reporters know, if you have 20 witnesses, you have 20 versions. They are taking the time to get it right.”

Police in Menlo Park, Calif., where the April 23 incident occurred, said they were continuing to look at the evidence in the incident, in which a car Halberstam was riding in was hit by another vehicle in an intersection. “I doubt it’s going to be this week,” police spokeswoman Nicole Acker said about a final report being released. She said she would check with investigators, but has yet to provide any further information.

Kevin Jones, a first-year graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, was driving Halberstam to an interview when the morning accident occurred. Police have yet to indicate if Jones or the driver of another car involved were at fault. Published accounts offer differing versions of which car may have run a red light or made an improper turn. Jones had volunteered at school for the driving job.

Jean Halberstam declined to comment on the investigation or Jones, saying only “it is a tragedy for him and his family, too.” She said she has been able to cope in recent weeks partly from the hundreds of letters and e-mails she has received from friends, relatives and strangers.

“It is amazing how many peoples’ lives were touched by him, ordinary people,” she said during a phone interview from her Manhattan co-op. “The number of letters from people who heard him lecture, give a commencement address, has been amazing. Grief doesn’t go away, but it is easier to deal with when it is someone who left a little notice in so many people.”

Jean Halberstam, a former public television reporter and one-time New York Times writer, said she met Halberstam in 1977, and the couple married in 1979. Since his death, she has taken to walking their dog, a task he used to complete twice a day, and met people that knew him from those walks. “It is the doormen on the street, the sweepers,” she says. “They knew him.”

She said one of the notes she had received was from President and Laura Bush, offering condolences. She called it ironic, given Halberstam’s criticism of the president. She noted that he was in talks at the time of his death to do a book on Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi official who was a leader in the push for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. The potential title: “Our Man In Iraq.”

Recalling the day of her husband’s death, she said she had been at a memorial service of another writer, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. “I had left the service probably at the time of the accident,” she said.

Two New York city police detectives came to her home, she recalled, and asked if she was the wife of David Halberstam. “I said, ‘he’s dead, isn’t he?'” she remembers. “They asked if he was in good health. When I said, ‘yes.’ They said, ‘yes he is dead.'”

She then called her daughter, Julia, who also lives in New York and told her to come over, before breaking the news to her.

“He has a lot of really great friends,” she said about those helping the family get through the difficult time. A memorial service is set for June 12 at Riverside Church in New York, with guests including author Doris Kearns Goodwin, Rep. John Lewis, and author Neil Sheehan.

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Related E&P story: Halberstam Lawyer Says Student Who Drove Author Acted ‘Negligently’ and ‘Recklessly’ On Day of Crash

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