The short life and appalling death of Raymond Zack, an avoidable American tragedy.

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Crown Memorial State Beach, Alameda, California is the kind of place you come to breathe and shake off life’s trials and tribulations.

The panorama is just what you think the Golden State should be…a place of possibilities, not inhibitions. Here the air is superior to any French vintage… the chill waters are bracing and playful….

Here the very birds fly higher because they are contented at such a place… and in the distance, clearly seen, is the great structure of one of mankind’s signature triumphs the Golden Gate Bridge… which sends every spirit soaring…

It was here that Raymond Zack came to die… and where the people charged with protecting life assisted Raymond take his, to the astonishment, wonder and outrage of the world.

Raymond Zack, born July 23, 1959.

Raymond was, like so many millions of us, a son of America’s great heartland; Ohio born and bred. His life moved to the rhythm that is so quintessentially ours…

He was a product of Columbus’ Catholic schools… where he learned good manners, the importance of being a good man and valuable citizen… and where he glimpsed, at the hands of his dedicated instructors, the reality of God Everlasting. At 6’3″ tall, this giant of a boy excelled at track and baseball… people saw him above the crowd and, with a wink and nudge, said the boy had talent.

He went, and went proudly, to Ohio State…. as American as any educational establishment in the land. It was here, upon graduation, that he entered the community of educated men and women… And where he decided to answer Horace Greeley’s great exhortation “Go West, young man, Go West!” And he did, attracted by the dazzling sunshine and even more dazzling possibilities of California, the pot of gold at the end of America’s rainbow.

But California life, for all that the sun was radiant, gave Raymond Zack more than his share of life’s troubles. His family life was turbulent, confusing, never restful though he was the beneficiary of his foster mother’s affectionate care and unceasing concern.

He weighed 300 pounds now and, like millions of his countrymen, was challenged by the complexities of food and the clear and present dangers of overindulgence. Chagrined by his bulk, Raymond, bit by bit, withdrew from the body politic and faced the secret sorrows of isolation and loneliness, the abiding reality for too many of his countrymen.

His mother died in November 2010… and though there had been confusions and disappointments there, still she was his mother… and her loss magnified his burdens.

Then, in the midst of a great recession, where California’s profound promise was tarnished, Raymond lost his job at the St. Vincent de Paul Free Food Distribution Center where, along with Mrs. Dolores Berry, his foster mother, he had helped everyone who came. Now the man who had helped so many… was himself in need of help. This, too, was, quintessentially American for too many…

Raymond, with a “God helps those who help themselves” attitude, tried hard to do what he’d been taught to do; to keep his chin up and a stiff upper lip; to do what he could… to stay cheerful in the face of adversity.

But bit by bit, like so many, his resilience and hope were worn away. Raymond’s dark days were nigh…

In the still of the night…

We shall never know where Raymond’s anxious forebodings carried him, alone at the midnight hour. At such a time a man may turn to booze, women, any dissipation to dispel the gloom… but Raymond seems to have faced his great matter alone… and in profound despair. This, too, is reality for millions of the dispossessed and fearful.

At some irrevocable moment in his profound human misery Raymond decided the game was not worth the candle… and that it was time to move again, out of very life itself.

Thus, on May 30, 2011, while his countrymen were celebrating the sacrifices made by others to the benefit of all, Raymond Zack decided to make a sacrifice, too — of himself, since living life was just too painful and without hope.

And so he waded into the chill waters at Crown Memorial State Beach, about to be the venue of muddle, confusion, bumbling… and death. A great American tragedy was about to commence… unnecessary, scandalous, an event that enhanced no one and left Raymond Zack, floating face down, his life’s work at an end.

Seen by many.

Remember, Raymond Zack was a big man, 6’3″, over 300 pounds. He moved slowly, deliberately in the shallow waters. He was clearly seen though his purpose, at first, was not. Still, as Raymond walked into deeper waters, residents were concerned; a 911 call was made… alerting police and firefighters that some kind of incident was underway.

In just 4 minutes help was at hand… and at hand help stayed… but without lifting a finger. And here is where an avoidable tragedy morphs into disbelief, reproach, scandal, and incomprehension.

Not one of the many lifesaving professionals on the beach, not a single one, did a single thing to forestall the tragedy that could so easily have been prevented.

Later these officials, pummelled by an incredulous world, worked overtime to manufacture excuses they hoped would appease, mollify and cover.

Fire officials said that because of budget cuts no one knew the necessary rescue procedures. But this excuse was quickly blasted… when it was shown the department had money, but no sense. Other officials said rescue policies did not cover the case in point.

A police spokesman said officers stayed out of the water because Zack was suicidal and posed a possible threat.

A boat was requested to take officers to Zack… but those requesting it never indicated the matter was pressing.

In short, at every moment where judgement, help and assistance were required… the professionals at hand, our honored paladins, were without judgement, help and assistance.

And so, in full view of the world, in full view of his hysterical foster parent, 86 year old Dolores Berry, who unsuccessfully begged for celerity and assistance, Raymond Zack died…

In the way of these things, everything the system could have provided Raymond in life only emerged when he was dead… in such ways does America expiate its negligence.

Now there are flowers on the beach where he died, a crowd gathers daily to reflect and wonder; bishops make Raymond the subject of their learned lamentations. Municipal officials investigate and dismiss the inept. All this is good, right and proper.

But we must not forget the man at the center of it all, Raymond Zack, dead too soon at 50. He meant us well, each and every one of us. Now, prematurely, he rests in the bosom of the Lord; may he find the peace there he never had here.

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About The Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is, where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at