BY GLENN PUIT
TRAVERSE CITY — Today would have been Ezekiel "Zeke" Goodwin's seventh birthday.
But his parents, family and friends won't be able to celebrate a new year in the child's life. Instead, they're grieving Zeke's death after a pickup driver struck him Wednesday morning at the Northwestern Michigan Fair.
"This is a tragedy for his parents, and it's a tragedy for this whole community," said Senior Pastor David Walls of the First Congregational Church in Traverse City, where Goodwin's father, Jeff, serves as an assistant pastor.
Authorities said Zeke was riding his bike on a dirt access road at the eastern edge of the fairgrounds when he was struck by a truck driven by Tad Marshal Thompson, 39, of Kingsley.
Grand Traverse County Undersheriff Nathan Alger said Thompson was leaving the fair with his daughter in the family pickup at 7:40 a.m. when Thompson realized he'd forgotten something. Thompson stopped the pickup, looked to his rear, didn't see the boy, backed up and struck Zeke.
The boy was pinned under the pickup for several minutes. Emergency personnel eventually moved the truck off Zeke and rushed him to Munson Medical Center. He then was flown to Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, where he died.
Alger said Thompson just didn't see the child.
"It appears to be an absolutely terrible accident," Alger said. "It wasn't like he was going at a high rate of speed or anything."
Thompson had passed the boy on his bicycle moments earlier and even "waved hi" to the child as he drove past, Alger said. Thompson, Alger said, is devastated.
"I talked to him yesterday," Alger said. "He's horribly distressed."
No tickets have been issued. Thompson voluntarily accompanied deputies for a blood test. An investigation is continuing.
Zeke's death is the second tragedy for his parents. Jeff and Becky Goodwin lost an infant son several years ago shortly after birth.
Walls described Zeke as a "beautiful child who was full of life."
Zeke loved horseback riding and fishing and riding his bike. Almost daily Zeke showed up at his father's church and pressed his face against the window in the pastor's office, trying to catch Walls' attention.
"His eyes danced," Walls said. "Despite his age, he had a true child's faith."
Walls said Jeff and Becky Goodwin showed courage in the face of the tragedy. They reminded Walls that their dying son's name was a reference to finding strength in God.
"While all this was going on ... (they) said, 'Don't forget to pray for the driver who hit Zeke,'" Walls said.
Those who come to the fair on Thursday to show livestock said they were devastated by the accident. Balloons and flowers tied to a chain-link fence where Zeke was struck served as a makeshift memorial. At one campsite, a family erected a sign saying "Pray for Zeke Goodwin."
Many children rode their bikes past the memorial on a brown dirt road that connects camping areas to the fairground barns.
An auctioneer's voice rattled off prices for livestock in the distance.
"My heart goes out to them," said Kim Munro, who rode her bike down the dirt road with her own 6-year-old. "We are so sorry for their loss."
Some who sold animals at the fair on Thursday donated their profits to the Goodwin family.
Walls said memorial services for Zeke will be Saturday at 11 a.m at the church on Center Road in Traverse City.