Hearse gets stuck in snow, adding smiles to sorrow

Posted at 11:35 AM, Nov 28, 2014
and last updated 2015-11-23 11:35:52-05

In a snowy funeral procession, Wayne "Zeke" Smeltzer got to be part of one last driving story.

Smeltzer, 59, a professional painter known for his signature laugh, died Nov. 21 at York Hospital, roughly one month after he was diagnosed with cancer, his family said.

On Wednesday, about 65 people, including family and friends, attended Smeltzer's funeral service at the John W. Keffer Funeral Home.

The family left the funeral home around 11:30 a.m. in the midst of York County's first real snowstorm of the season. Up to 6 inches of snow blanketed parts of the county.

"It was the worst possible time to leave," Joseph Keffer, a supervisor at the funeral home, said Thursday.

About 25 cars followed the hearse carrying Smeltzer's casket.

Just a mile from Salem Cemetery in Lower Windsor Township, Smeltzer's son, Chad, saw his mother's car in front of him start to spin out on a hill in the snow. Then, he saw the hearse already on its way back down the steep hill because it apparently could not make it up either.

Chad said he was angry and frustrated that the weather was preventing the family from getting to the cemetery. He got out to drive his mother's car.

And so the procession tried a different route.

They were met with the same result.

The winding back roads were tough to navigate, and the hearse started fishtailing on another steep road.

"In the end, I had to get a good laugh," Chad Smeltzer said. "If Dad was watching, he was having a blast. He had a hundred stories about driving...to watch the hearse spin around, it was fitting for him."

Other family members described the day much the same. Feelings of anger and anxiety were soon replaced with a lighter mood.

"That's the way he would have wanted it to happen," Carissa Spies, Smeltzer's granddaughter, said. When the hearse was stuck, family members got out to push. Someone even laid a jacket on the snowy, wet ground under the tire, Spies said.

Then, a plan was hatched.

Family members carefully moved the casket from the hearse into the back of a pickup. Smeltzer's two grandsons, Shane Gephart, 16, and Damien Smeltzer, 17, sat in the back to make sure the casket didn't slide out. A strap also held it down. A photo shows the two teens in the back of the truck smiling, their dress shirts wet from snow.

"In the end, it all fell together," Chad's wife Kelli said. "Zeke was leaving us his story."

Family members said they eventually made it safely to the cemetery.

On Thanksgiving, they sat down for a big meal. Picture boards showing Zeke Smeltzer were nearby, and the family talked about the prior day's events.

"He wasn't ready to go," Chad Smeltzer said in a phone interview. "I'm sure he had a big smile on his face."