Kristen Hickey first knew something was wrong via a Facebook message.
Her fiance’s friend and co-worker-for-the-day at a tree-trimming job in Guilderland contacted her. She needed to call.
Justus Booze, the man she planned to marry, who helped care for her three children and who had struggled to find work, was dead in a tree grinding machine accident, she learned.
“I didn’t want to believe it,” Hickey told The Daily Gazette today, two days after Booze’s death. “I showed up at the site. I was just heartbroken. I couldn’t talk to nobody. I was just on my knees just crying.
“I went back today to the site just to have a little bit of, you know, closure,” she continued as her voice trailed off to a whisper. “It was hard.”
The investigation into the 23-year-old Booze’s death continued today, led by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The OSHA inspection is ongoing, a spokesman there said. There is no estimated date for completion. If violations are found, citations could be issued and fines proposed.
Booze died in an accident just after 1 p.m. Wednesday while working on a crew removing large trees in front of 215 Placid Drive for Guilderland-based Countryside Tree Care. It was Booze’s first day on the job.
One of his co-workers alerted others to the accident, police have said. A spokesman this week did not know if the co-worker was with Booze at the time or whether Booze was alone at the machine, but Booze became entangled in the machine and died at the scene.
Booze had no background in such work, Hickey said. A friend called him with the opportunity for the day.
Hickey said she doesn’t know exactly how the accident happened, but she doesn’t understand how Booze could have been put to work close enough to such a piece of machinery for his life to be taken.
Services have yet to be scheduled. Hickey hopes to have them this coming week. They’re waiting on the tree outfit’s insurance company to finalize plans.
Booze’s death has led to an outpouring of support online. A GoFundMe account administered by a Booze family friend to cover funeral and other unexpected costs topped $4,500 in donations by this evening.
Those who knew Booze this week recalled him as someone with a big smile and genuinely nice.
Hickey recalled Booze as her biggest supporter and a man who loved her and her children.
Hickey, 31, met Booze a year and a half ago at a friend’s house. Though she was older than him by several years, he quickly hit it off with both her and her three children, she recalled. Her children are now ages 7, 8 and 11.
All three grew close to him, she said, especially her youngest, Olivia.
“He was like a big ball of energy and fun with them,” Hickey said, speaking at the Schenectady apartment the family shared. “He was always down on their level. He was always there to pick them up.” They’ve been hit hard by his death, she said.
She recalled Booze supporting her as she finally worked to finalize a divorce in a long-over marriage.
“He was just there to push me up and say ‘You have this,’ ” Hickey said.
The couple planned to get married in two weeks.
“He was my backbone,” Hickey said. “He pushed me to do things that even I didn’t even know that I could do. He was just so strong and supportive.”
Booze took the day job Wednesday, she said, to ensure the family’s rent was paid for May — they started the month $60 short. Hickey works when she can as a self contractor kiosk sales representative. Booze had been looking for work. A family friend this week who helped connect him to a delivery company said he was about to get a longer-term job there.
The May 4 day job, Hickey said, paid $64 or $65 — just enough to cover the May rent shortfall.
“He jumped on the opportunity,” she said, “because he wanted to make sure our rent was paid and on time — all for $64 bucks.
“If I could rewind it,” she said, her voice filling with emotion, “I would.”