Chanda Veno

Chanda Veno

Oftentimes we are so immersed in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives that it takes something monumental to make us stop and count our blessings. A pair of local tragedies in the past nine days has certainly given me a new appreciation for the fragility of life.

As a mom of three and a journalist, every day is an adventure and I never know what to expect. Over the years I have learned to roll with the punches, but there are certain times you can’t prepare for.

I experienced such a moment last week. On July 2, as I was getting ready to head home for the evening to enjoy an extended holiday break with my family, a call of a possible juvenile drowning in Elkhorn Creek came over the police scanner.

I stood in the newsroom listening to dispatch relay more information about the situation to first responders and knew that with all the reporters gone for the day, it fell on me to head out to Still Waters Campground, where a 14-year-old Lawrenceburg boy had gone into the creek and never resurfaced.

This was one of those calls — along with car accidents and fires — that journalists dread most. First responders are physically, mentally and emotionally trained to deal with such tragedies; reporters are not. For the first time in my career, I had to take a breather and compose myself before heading to the scene.

When I got there, the festive Fourth of July spirit had been sucked out of the campground as folks compared notes on the situation that had unexpectedly unfolded. First responders were already in the water searching for Landon Smith. His family sat nearby, visibly shaken and sobbing.

According to an eyewitness who was among those who jumped in the water to look for Landon before help arrived, the teenager entered the creek from a slick, muddy boat ramp but never came back up. After about an hour of searching, Frankfort-Franklin County Emergency Management Director Tommy Russell approached Smith’s family to relay that the search was likely a recovery mission at that point.

I will never forget how his father’s face seemed to collapse with the news. As a parent of two teenage boys — one 15 and one 13 — it wasn’t difficult to envision myself in his shoes — the victim of a freak accident. It shook me to the core and I readily admit that I have hugged my kids tighter in the days since the tragedy.

Still reeling from the drowning, when news spread that Franklin County High School social studies teacher Adam Hyatt — who taught my oldest son last year — died in a three-car accident on Sunday, I was once again caught off guard.

That’s the thing about life — you just never know what’s going to happen. However, in the wake of both tragedies there was one common theme — the kindness of strangers.

People who didn’t even know Landon or his family didn’t hesitate to jump in Elkhorn Creek to look for the teen. In the days since Hyatt’s death, there has been a tremendous outpouring of community support for the wife and two children he leaves behind.

And that is what I am choosing to take away from these two unforeseen and unrelated events because it is my hope that the kindness of strangers is one thing we can depend on.

Chanda Veno is Managing Editor of The State Journal. She can be reached at

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