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Son's mystery death still mother's misery

November 24, 2000

Son's mystery death still mother's misery



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer


Time hasn't healed all of Irene Smith's wounds.

Almost 2 1/2 years have passed since her son, Joshua, died mysteriously after an evening of drinking and partying with friends near an old railroad bridge.

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On that July 1998 night, Joshua, 17, ended up in a trash bin outside the Red Byrd Restaurant, Motel & Banquet Hall in Keedysville, where he worked. The bin was later carted away with him in it.

Someone sorting through recyclables in Rockville, Md., found Joshua's body the next day.

There are several theories of how he died. One is that someone killed him, but there is no evidence of that. Irene Smith, a Boonsboro resident, doubts a leading police theory that her son slept there on purpose.

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"It was hot that night," she said. "It was smelly inside. Would he have crawled in and closed the door?"

Robert L. Smith Jr., Joshua's father and Irene Smith's ex-husband, is equally perplexed. Joshua was too finicky to lie down among empty meat boxes, he said.

There are other nagging questions.

Was Joshua's head injury sustained before he died? Was it caused when a truck emptied the trash bin?

If he actually tried to nap in the bin, why were his shorts - which he wore over boxer shorts - removed, torn and lying next to him?

Irene Smith wants to learn the elusive truth.

"I've thought about just letting it be," she said, her arm quivering as she held her notes and other papers. "I've wondered if that would be best, but it just doesn't feel right."

Eight months ago, a friend helped her cause by hiring Don Newcomer, a private investigator and retired Maryland State Police trooper from Baltimore County.

Newcomer said he met Oct. 31 with Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Susan Lochbaum and Washington County Sheriff's Department Cpl. Pete Lazich to discuss the case and both have been helpful.

"The investigation is still not closed," Newcomer said. "It's merely suspended."

Lazich's answering machine said he is out of his office until Nov. 29. Sgt. Mark Faith did not return two calls this week.

Washington County State's Attorney Kenneth Long would not talk about the matter. "We don't make comments about open cases," he said.

Newcomer said he is still trying to speak to people who saw Joshua on the night he died. He also has asked for blood on Joshua's shirt to be tested.

Joshua's body sustained numerous injuries to the head, ribs and leg. An autopsy said the injuries were postmortem- they occurred after death.

But a temporal fracture on Joshua's skull was later declared to have happened before he died, Newcomer said. Irene Smith said the blood on her son's shirt probably came from this wound and she wondered if it stemmed from a fight.

Joshua had several drinks of Southern Comfort the night he died, according to his mother and Newcomer.

Irene Smith knows that her son was drinking, as he had before. "Sometimes I'd breathalyze him if he was going to a party," she said. "As a mother, I was trying to do what I could to protect him from some things."

Robert Smith, who lives in Hagerstown, said his son turned into "a real calm boy" after being "a little ornery" as a kid. They enjoyed a close relationship, he said, especially when the father coached his son in Little League baseball.

What he misses most is "just being close to him," Robert Smith said.

"He loved to have fun," Irene Smith said. "He enjoyed his life."

With one year of high school left, Joshua was thinking of joining the U.S. Marine Corps and then going into law enforcement, his mother said.

She has been talking often to Robert Smith about Newcomer's investigation.

Robert Smith supports what she's doing.

"There were a lot of things left undone," he said.

"I don't feel satisfied where it was left," Irene Smith said.

Her quest is solace, not revenge.

"I'm not out to get someone into trouble," she said. "What I'm looking for personally is to stop looking and to close it."

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