ENOSBURGH — Rene Longley wasn’t scared to die.
That’s why he did flying wheelies on any vehicle he came across, why he drove fast, and why he had his fair amount of tickets from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. It’s why he was a logging and farm hand, and why he stuck his hands in any machine that needed fixing.
It’s also why he scooted underneath a malfunctioning hay baler, without hesitation, to repair it on a Highgate farm June 19. The machine wasn’t propped up by a block of wood or other support, and it fell, killing Longley underneath.
Saturday marked three months since the accident. Longley’s parents, Carrie Deuso and “Big” Rene Longley, are continuing to mourn their 21-year-old son’s death. A wall sits in their Enosburgh trailer, covered with photos of Longley riding and flying, of him snuggling with the family’s three dogs, and the rainbows that came out the day of his funeral.
Next to those photos is a canvas with the words, “You are my sunshine.” That is the song Deuso sang to (and embarrassed) her only son as he grew up, and what she sang to him as he lay in the emergency room at Northwest Medical Center and University of Vermont Medical Center.
“I hoped he would open his eyes and tell me to stop,” said Deuso this week. In the past, when she sang, Longley would tell her that he knew he was her sunshine, “but everyone else doesn’t need to know that.”
But Longley didn’t wake up, and now, his parents hold on to their memories of their son.
“He was always in the air,” said Deuso. “He was an angel in training, and we just didn’t know it.”
According to Carrie Deuso, her son was a “wild child, always.” He received tickets for doing wheelies on his bicycle, and he gave a Franklin County Sheriff’s officer a chase a time or two.
“He always had to be in the air,” said Big Rene. It didn’t matter, he added, if it was a pedal bike, dirt bike, four-wheeler or even a lawn mower.
“He could ride anything,” said Deuso. She added that she and Big Rene started it all: they gave their son Hot Wheels cars and other vehicle models every year for Christmas, and now, they have a box full of them.
Longley, like his father, could also fix anything. Longley followed in Big Rene’s footsteps, whether sitting on his lap in dozers, skid steers or trucks at age five or putting together his own toolbox in his teenage years.
“He wanted to be just like his dad,” said Deuso. “He was well on his way.”
Longley hit some bumps on the way – he had his first child at age 17, lost his license, struggled in school (he didn’t graduate) and was issued those traffic tickets.
“He was always in trouble, but everybody liked him,” said Deuso. “If anybody needed help, he was always right there.”
This meant he brought ginger ale to his mom when she was sick, helped neighbors and friends repair anything that was broken, and was there for other young people going through difficult times.
He also told his parents – every day – that he loved them. “He didn’t care when he was in public or anything, he’d tell us he loved us,” said Big Rene.
Longley’s interest in helping others, and his love for all things mechanical, led him to a better path. He worked for Napa Auto Parts in St. Albans on and off for three years, and then he began working for Johnny Rainville doing contracted logging and farm jobs.
“Hands-on stuff, Rene was good at,” said Deuso.
It was a five minutes to twelve on Friday, June 19 when Big Rene received a call from Rainville. Big Rene was working at AC Vaillancourt Repairs at the time.
Big Rene in turn called Deuso. “He just said, ‘Little Rene got hurt, and it’s not good,’” said Deuso.
On the way to NMC, Deuso prayed her son just lost an arm or a leg. “We got to the hospital, he was unconscious already. He was brain dead,” she said through tears.
Longley was revived several times in front of his parents, and he went to UVM Medical Center for critical care. In between, Deuso sang “You Are My Sunshine,” to her sun, she hugged him as best as she could, and she kissed his hands, his feet.
Deuso, Big Rene and about 60 people who showed up in support waited. But doctors eventually informed Longley’s parents that he was not going to survive.
“That night in the hospital, the whole floor was covered [with people],” said Deuso. “[It] filled up with all of his friends, all of his girlfriends. So many people came to say goodbye to him.”
Deuso left at 11:30 p.m. She couldn’t bear to watch her son being taken off life support, which he was kept on until his organs could be donated.
“I never thought he would go like that,” she said. “Everybody thought, in a vehicle, on a snowmobile. Never did we think he would be at work fixing something.”
The entire experience continues to play back for Deuso three months later. “The flashbacks are the worst,” she said. “It happens every day.”
Fortunately for Deuso and Big Rene, they haven’t been alone in their grief.
Friends, family and the community supported the two parents in the weeks after their son’s death, and his funeral, held on June 25, was jam-packed. Spears Funeral Home told them it was the second largest they had ever seen in Enosburgh. Not everyone in the receiving line made it through the door according to Deuso, and the two parking lots at Enosburgh Falls High School and Enosburg Elementary School were full.
“The boy was loved,” she said. “He just had friends everywhere. People were lined right up the sidewalk.”
“He was amazing,” Big Rene said. “It hit the whole town, literally.”
At the funeral, a large number of people brought their cars, trucks, motorcycles, and even one snowmobile. Longley had told his parents that when he died, he wanted people to do a smoke show for him – to burn out the back tires on their car.
“He wasn’t afraid, he always talked about [dying],” said Deuso of her son’s planning.
Longley’s last wish was honored all up and down Duffy Hill Road. Outside the funeral home – Brett Langdell – attempted a smoke show in his 1989 Ford Mustang and lost control of the car, hitting the side of Young’s Accounting on Main Street. He received a traffic ticket.
With all the smoke in the air, Deuso said a complete rainbow formed around the sun. She has the image tattooed on her calf with her son’s name, and the original photo is on the wall in her home. Everywhere that day, Deuso said rainbows and strange clouds filled the sky, and ever since, she’s found herself often looking up.
“That’s where my eyes are now,” said Deuso.
Ever since his death, Longley has had a Facebook page dedicated to his memory with numerous posts, and people have continued supporting Deuso, Big Rene and others close to Longley.
For Big Rene, it’s been especially difficult to go back to work. “It’s hard for him to pick up a wrench knowing that Rene died doing this,” said Deuso. “It’s really sad that Big Rene can’t do what he does best. He’s a mechanic.”
Deuso is having a hard time, too. “My life will never be the same,” she said. “It’s a daily struggle.”
Their three dogs – Sadie, Lou Lou and Lily – comfort Deuso and Big Rene, staying close by. All the dogs sat next to or on top of both parents during the interview for this story.
Deuso has also been in close touch with Amber Ovitt, the Enosburgh mother of 15-year-old Dawson Perley, who was killed in an ATV accident just one week after Longley’s death.
At work, Deuso has received compassion from her co-workers at KayTec in Richford. She has been extremely safety conscious, to the point of speaking out in the KayTec warehouse, where some employees were working under heavy palettes full of vinyl, held up by a fork lift, without any kind of safety support.
Since she said something, Deuso said the workers now have a big wooden frame to put underneath the palette to protect themselves.
“Accidents happen – but if you can prevent it from happening, you should. Don’t just walk by,” she said. She added of Longley’s accident that everyone involved probably knew that a block of wood should have been put underneath the baler, but didn’t bother.
“It only takes one slip,” said Big Rene.
Though Longley’s death is a big negative in their lives, his parents are trying to look at the positive. Longley’s girlfriend, Hannah, found out she was pregnant a week after Longley’s death. Deuso said Hannah has stayed at their home, and Deuso plans to help with the new baby.
“That’s what keeps me going,” said Deuso. “Rene was my only child – I’m really looking forward to this one coming.”
In the meantime, Deuso and Big Rene keep the wall in their home dedicated to their son with photos, plants and placards reading “You Are My Sunshine.”
“[We] just keep going, take it day by day,” said Deuso. “That’s how we do it.”