For decades, Gary Zakarian has visited his sister in Dewey Beach, helping her with her golden retrievers.
The weekend of June 8-9 was no different. When Karen Zakarian made plans to see her niece graduate from high school in Texas, she said, she knew her brother would take care of the dogs as well as their father, who lives in Karen's Elizabeth Street home on the Forgotten Mile, north of Dewey.
What she didn't expect was a phone call telling her Gary had been struck and killed by a car while walking the dogs about 8:50 p.m. along his customary route.
"He was four or five blocks from home," she said. "He was almost home."
On June 8, Zakarian and the dogs had crossed the northbound lanes of Route 1 near the Quality Inn north of Dewey Beach and was almost across the southbound lanes, near the Sea Esta II motel, when he was hit by a 2001 Jeep Wrangler driven by R. Brandon Jones, 68, of Felton.
"The dogs made it into the shoulder lane, and he almost made to the shoulder," Karen said. "The dogs skedaddled after he was hit."
Her 3-year-old female retriever, Haley's Comet, was found a couple of hours later on the east side of Route 1; a resident in Silver Lake woke up June 9 to 1-year-old Herbie the Love Bug on his deck, Karen said.
Karen said she had been in constant communication with her brother the day of the accident; live video of her niece's graduation was streaming at her home, and he knew he had time to walk the dogs before the graduation procession reached the Zs.
He also knew he had time to visit the Mustard Seed, a nearby shop the highly religious 55-year-old often visited when in the area, Karen said.
Gary was carrying a copy of the Ten Commandments when he was hit, she said.
"He was on his way home to watch our niece graduate. I knew something was wrong when I didn't hear from him," Karen said.
Karen's fiancé, Jesse Burns, also was on his way to watch the graduation with the family at Karen's home. Burns drove around the accident near the Sea Esta II Motel, never realizing it was Gary who had been struck, Karen said.
Officials at the accident scene told Karen that Zakarian died at the scene. Jones was properly restrained and not injured. Police are interviewing witnesses at the scene and told Karen that it may take months to conclude the investigation. No charges have been filed, said Cpl. Gary Fournier of the Delaware State Police.
Karen said her brother did nothing wrong when he crossed the roadway. It was a walk he had done many times with the dogs. At 6-feet tall and 250 pounds walking two large dogs on a straight, well-lit stretch of highway, she said, she does not know how someone could miss him.
"This is not like a little dog that ran into the road," she said. "This guy hit him head on."
Jones, an attorney with Hudson Jones Jaywork and Fisher, could not be reached for comment.
A big heart
A generous soul, Zakarian came down from his home in Smyrna over the weekend to help take care of their aging father while the rest of the family celebrated graduation in Texas, Karen said.
"He was one of the best men you would ever meet," Karen said. "He was an upstanding citizen."
Karen said Gary grew up with his brother and two sisters in Newark where he graduated from Glasgow High School and attended Delaware Technical and Community College. He was a veteran of the U.S. Navy and served on a nuclear submarine in the 1980s.
Zakarian was all about family and country, Karen said – a guest bedroom in her home is full of presents he brought down for her fiancé's children.
Karen said she wants to make sure her brother's name is not besmirched in any way. He was a good man and did not drink alcohol, she said.
The tragedy has affected families on both sides but at the heart of it is the two people most involved – Zakarian and Jones.
"Two people's lives were changed that day," she said.