TRAVERSE CITY — Jeff Goodwin remembers the words he and his wife Becky exchanged when they awoke the day after their young son died following an accident at the 2012 Northwestern Michigan Fair.
“Becky looked at me and said ‘this can’t ever happen again,’” Jeff Goodwin said.
Ezekiel “Zeke” Goodwin died at age 6 after a pickup truck struck him while he rode along a dirt road at the fairgrounds last year. The boy was on his way to feed his horse.
Trucks hauling livestock trailers, recreational vehicles and dozens of young bike riders shared the road where Zeke was hit, and his death spurred a campaign to build a bike path at the fairgrounds.
The 2013 Northwestern Michigan Fair opens this weekend, and a paved, illuminated path now stretches along the eastern side of the fairgrounds between the event’s campgrounds and the area that contains fair activities.
Community members and local business donated thousands of dollars, materials and labor to construct the path in the wake of Zeke’s death.
“It was a community effort,” Northwestern Michigan Fair Board President Wayne Strang said. “We had donations sent in from people we didn’t even know.”
And fair officials implemented additional safety measures, including a ban on all vehicles other than delivery trucks on the fairgrounds starting Sunday, Strang said. Delivery trucks will be escorted by on-foot spotters.
A Kingsley man who drove the truck that struck and killed Zeke last year told Grand Traverse County sheriff’s investigators he never saw the boy. Prosecutors did not pursue criminal charges, and no civil lawsuits were filed as a result of the accident.
“Stuff like this is a freak accident that happens, so we have to step forward and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Strang said.
An archway stretches over the new path and is adorned with the name “Zeke’s Way.” The phrase is a reference to the path as a way to travel safely at the fair, and for the Goodwin family it has become a sort of mantra to remember the way their late son lived his life.
“That’s taken off as our theme,” Jeff Goodwin said.
A dedication ceremony for the new bike path in Zeke’s memory is scheduled for Sunday at 6:30 p.m.