Oh Danny boy

In July, 2005 Danny Maguire was hit on his bicycle by a drunk driver. Over the following three years Team Danny gave him 24/7 care. In return, he gave them a lifetime’s worth of love and song
by Paul Teetor
Published June 5, 2008

Jeff Maguire is a modest man, a man not given to bragging about his successful screenwriting career, his wide range of friends or his loving, multi-generational family.

But at this moment, a moment that no parent should ever have to face, he was so overwhelmed by images of the past that he couldn’t help himself.

“Did I have a cool son or what?” he exclaimed, raising his arm and pumping his fist in triumph. “I’m so proud of him!”

In front of Maguire more than 700 people, many of them openly sobbing and cheering at the same time, nodded their heads and clapped in agreement: Jeff Maguire -- and his wife Lynn -- did indeed produce a cool son back on May 19, 1985.

On that fateful, not-so-long-ago day Lynn gave birth to Danny Maguire, a baby boy with big, blue, seashell eyes, a heart full of love and a head full of music just waiting to be heard. As the audience had just seen in a seamless string of pictures, Danny grew into a beautiful boy in the Maguire’s little house on Magnolia Avenue, a house with a backyard just big enough for a growing golden boy and his many friends.

Using a slide show packed with hundreds of old family pictures and driven by a soundtrack with dozens of his romantic, wistful songs, all 22 years and 364 days of Danny Maguire’s magical-mystery-tour of a life flashed across the screen for a standing-room-only audience Saturday night at the American Martyrs Church in Manhattan Beach.

The montage of old pictures revealed Danny as a natural-born leader and fearless adventurer who later morphed into a talented, charismatic teenager, a musical prodigy with a lyrical gift and a limitless future.

And in his life’s way-too-premature third act, after the random hand of fate intervened in a truly tragic way, the pictures revealed him as a brave young man who fulfilled his destiny by inspiring thousands around the globe with his refusal to go gently into that good night.

“It’s amazing how one person can touch so many lives,” Jeff Maguire said. “I just feel so strongly that Danny is looking down at us, loving every second of this. There are so many people he loved.”

Danny Maguire passed on to a better place on May 19, just one day short of his 23rd birthday. The memorial service was a sentimental journey for an audience who saw picture after picture with one common theme: love equals God, family, fun, friends, music -- and ice hockey.

Time waits for no young man
The haunting, lyrical photo montage started with a single word -- DANNY -- written in huge letters in the sand, just inches from his beloved Pacific Ocean. Then suddenly there was Danny as a baby wearing nothing but sunglasses, Danny as a little boy wearing a Santa Claus cap, Danny swinging a bat in Little League, Danny dressed up for Halloween, Danny with his grandparents, and Danny with movie star Clint Eastwood, taken when his father wrote the classic 1993 Eastwood flick “In the Line of Fire.”

Then there was a smiling Danny with his dad, a snuggling Danny with his grandmother, a mischievous Danny clowning around with his cousins, loving Danny hugging his brother Andy, aggressive Danny leading the charge with his hockey teammates and rock-star Danny playing guitar with early sidekicks.

One of his most spiritual, haunting songs, “Beads on a String,” provided the background for some of the most timeless pictures: Danny skating in a winter wonderland on a frozen New Hampshire lake, Danny clowning around with his look-alike “twin cousin” Katie Adams, Danny fronting several of his many bands -- Good for Nothing, Fisticuffs and Michael Jackson’s Nose among them.

And always, at every step of the way, there was Danny with his proud and beaming dad, hugging and holding on for dear life, one feeding off the other, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

“One day we were playing hockey on the same team, and Danny scored a goal,” Jeff recalled with a catch in his voice. “I remember hearing the public address announcer saying goal by Danny Maguire, assist by Jeff Maguire. That’s something a father never forgets.”

But little boys grow up and time waits for no young man. Now there was an excited Danny with his beloved blue Fender electric guitar, Danny looking sleek and speedy in a Mighty Ducks hockey jersey, Danny holding a Molson’s Ale, Danny throwing a Frisbee, Danny with his dog Buddy Holly, his beloved Jack Russell, Danny looking high-tech with plugged-in guitar and headphones, Danny and female friends on a roller coaster ride, Danny the teen idol rock star, Danny playing for the Mira Costa hockey team, Danny at graduation, Danny and guy friends on a summer trip to Europe, Danny in front of Scottish castles, Danny drinking Guinness Stout in Irish pubs and Danny suddenly taller than his dad.

And finally, bravely and unflinchingly for the family that put the slide-show together, there were many pictures of a very different Danny, a silent-but-knowing Danny. He was usually laid out on a bed with various members of Team Danny, the friends and family who rallied around him 24/7 in the almost three years since he was hit by a drunk driver in July 2005 and suffered a severe brain trauma.

Not just another night
It started out as a night like any other night in Danny Maguire’s young life, filled with friends, family and music -- and a youthful sense of adventure and immortality. It was also the last night before everything changed, not only in Danny’s life, but for all those who loved and cared about him.

After graduating from Mira Costa in 2003, Danny and several of his friends attended the University of Colorado in Boulder, where they formed the popular campus band “Fisticuffs.” Danny was home for the summer in 2005 when he walked into his father’s study on the night of July 16. “He wanted me to hear this new song he had written,” Jeff said. “I was busy, but I finally took the time to listen to it. Thank God I did.”

Danny had left his bike at his friend Kevin Halcomb’s house, nearby but on the other side of Manhattan Beach Boulevard. Later that night he got a ride to Halcomb’s house, where he joined several of his friends. Some of them had been to other parties around town and were now relaxing by playing music. Danny was fooling around on the piano, and his childhood friend and Good for Nothing band mate Sherif Shoucri was playing guitar. Then Danny left to ride his bike home at around 1 in the morning.

According to the police accident report, Danny was riding his bike without a helmet, which was legal because he was over 18, eastbound on Manhattan Beach Boulevard in the number one lane. He apparently was going to make a U-turn at Meadows Avenue. Suddenly, according to eyewitnesses, he was hit from behind by a Jeep Cherokee that loomed up out of the darkness and kept going.

A witness called the police and Manhattan Beach Police Sgt. Andy Herrod, who was working a DUI checkpoint in the area, was on the scene within 90 seconds. His rapid response helped save Danny’s life and led to the quick arrest of the hit-and-run driver, who later pleaded guilty to his third DUI and went to prison for several years.

Jeff Maguire said he will be eternally grateful to the MBPD for its quick response and its vigilant follow-up. “The Manhattan Beach police are like family to us now,” he said. “And Andy Herrod is one of my heroes.”

Herrod was working another DUI checkpoint on Rosecrans Avenue Saturday night but took time out to come to the memorial service. He spoke briefly to acknowledge Maguire’s high praise. And he made a heart-felt vow, one of many vows issued over the course of the night.

“As long as I’m a police officer I will be dedicated to working the DUI checkpoints and getting drunk drivers off the road,” he said. “I’ll never forget Danny, or what happened to him.”

You can call me bro
While Danny’s accident and ultimately his death impacted hundreds of family and friends, it was particularly hard on his brother Andy Owens, whom Danny always called his biggest musical influence.

“Since Danny’s accident, I haven’t been able to play a guitar, or even pick one up,” he told the hushed audience. “But I had to dust it off for tonight. I’m going to play tonight, for Danny.”

Struggling to hold back tears, Owens’ emotions were rawer than sandpaper as he shared his memories.

“Since his accident, I’ve had a very difficult time,” he said. “And the last week has been so hard going through all the old pictures. Danny is the best thing that ever happened to me. He was my best friend. He always called me bro.”

Flipping back though the years, he smiled briefly at all the good times.

“What will I miss the most?” he asked rhetorically. “Playing hockey together. All the times Danny would set me to score up with a perfect pass.”

He, too, like each of the dozen people who spoke and shared memories, vowed that he will never forget Danny. But he took it a step further: he vowed to live his life the same way he saw Danny live his life, and to learn from the brother who was 12 years younger but was blessed with a certain grace with people and ease with life that not many are given.

“Danny will live on in us all,” he said. “He will live on in us as we find the joy in each day, as we forgive our grudges, and as don’t sweat the small stuff. I loved my brother and I always will.”

Danny was raised in a family atmosphere of strong spirituality. The family is devotees of the late Indian spiritual master, Meher Baba, who emphasized that all religions are "beads on one string" and that "Nothing is real but God; nothing matters but love for God.”

A memorial service similar to the one Saturday night was held Sunday afternoon at the Avatar Meher Baba Center in Los Angeles. Other memorial services will be held in August in New Hampshire, where Danny’s grandmother lives, and in South Carolina, where other relatives live.

Goal by Danny Maguire, Assist by Jeff Maguire
Like Danny’s life, his memorial service was filled by music. It wasn’t just that his brother Andy found the courage to finally pick up a guitar again, or that two friends with guitars played a painfully beautiful acoustic version of “Danny Boy,” or that “Good for Nothing” plugged in and played its classic hits of Danny’s songs, which so many in the room knew by heart.

It was also that his cousin, Raina Scott, sang her inspirational song “Angel,” just as she had so many times for Danny as he made his remarkable progress over the past few years. “I’m dedicating this to Danny and to my Aunt Lynnie,” she said.

And there was Devitt Feely, holding the crowd spellbound with his haunting lyrics: “The soul of a man won’t die, there will be no sad farewell, and the soul of a man never dies.”

But most of all, it was the song that Danny wrote at age 13, “My Heart Goes Out To You.” Its final verse was quoted in the service’s program:

“Now I’m feeling worn out,
My head and brain are gone,
But, one thing: my heart stands strong,
I am filled with water, and in the hospital,
I just scored, the winning goal.”

Once again, on one more Saturday night, it was goal by Danny Maguire, assist by Jeff Maguire.

Writer Paul Teetor may be reached at paulteetor@verizon.net.

To read about the support Danny Maguire received from family, friends and the medical community following his accident see “Team Danny,” Easy Reader, Nov. 23, 2006. ER