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A visit, a memory, a plea for fairness

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By MARY JO MELONE, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 22, 2002

The number 6 that Brad Fetchet wore during the years he played hockey and lacrosse at his New Canaan, Conn., high school has been retired. His parents are establishing a college scholarship in his name. They held a memorial for him, and later, when the first of his remains were turned over, held a funeral for him.

Brad was 24 when he died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. He was an equity trader and worked on the 89th floor. His parents, Mary and Frank, have struggled every day since.

"I hate to think of living the next 35 years of my life knowing that we lost our son in such a senseless and savage way," Frank Fetchet said. "Like I tell Mary, sometimes I think he's the lucky one."

I did not find the Fetchets. They found me.

I wrote a column Sunday in which I questioned whether we were turning the survivors of Sept. 11's victims into millionaires at public expense and whether it was right to do so.

The Fetchets, in Clearwater from Connecticut to visit Mary's mother, called to object. They want you to know that people like me are portraying them unfairly. They never use the word millionaire.

Mary Fetchet is a social worker, and her husband is a salesman for IBM. They are not rich. But they have enough. They are good people. You can tell that too. Money is not what they want, they say. They want what they call fair.

Some of what they get will come from private charities, particularly the United Way and Red Cross. The Fetchets have received some money for burial expenses. Nevertheless, Mary Fetchet said the charities' funds have been so tied up in red tape that it's almost not worth applying for it.

"It's forms, forms, forms," she said. "I want to remove the word f-o-r-m from the dictionary." Every form revives every sadness. Every form demands bills and explanations. "It's demeaning," she said.

Mary Fetchet has been active among the families of World Trade Center survivors, so active that she has been invited to appear with President Bush on Wednesday when he signs a bill that returns the last two years of income taxes paid by victims to their survivors.

The Bush administration must be courting Mrs. Fetchet. For she is among those fighting to change the way the other big source of money for the survivors, the $6-billion federal victims compensation fund, will be divided.

Put simply, Mrs. Fetchet objects to being denied the right to sue the airlines, where financial settlements can reach well into the millions, and the government. Giving up the right to sue would be part of the deal for those who accept federal money.

She also objects to the formula used to determine what a victim's survivors would get. The formula is based on the victim's projected life-long earnings, and Mrs. Fetchet believes the figures are too low.

The New York Times has reported that the survivors of a single 25-year-old man with no children -- a man like Mrs. Fetchet's son -- would get more than $917,000, tax free.

According to Mrs. Fetchet, however, the government could take into account "life insurance, workers' compensation, 401Ks, pensions and Social Security," leaving her son's survivors with far less from the feds.

It is also unclear who would be eligible for the money, the Fetchets or their son's fiancee. If it were his parents, Frank Fetchet said the money would go to the scholarship fund. Mrs. Fetchet said they might also use some to pay the $60,000 loan they took out for Brad's college education.

All this is reasonable enough, but I am still bothered by the sums of money being talked about.

The Fetchets were notified last week that more of their son's remains have been found. There will be another ceremony, another burial, another day for the deepest mourning. All this is true. But what price do you put on grief?

-- You can reach Mary Jo Melone at or (813) 226-3402.

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