PORT ORCHARD — When a hit-and-run driver inexplicably took down a 61-year-old pedestrian by hitting and killing him as he went about his exercise routine safely off Sidney Road in South Kitsap, she might as well have taken down his loving family and the community of friends who loved him.
To hear Michael Keaton’s daughter describe him is to listen to a grieving family member tearfully recount the many ways he was, in fact, a remarkable man. A unique, warm patriarch struck down in his prime in wanton, needless fashion.
When Saturday morning, July 14 arrived, an 8:30 a.m. phone call shattered the world of his family.
Tawnie Ploe answered the phone call from her very worried mother. She was concerned that Ploe’s father hadn’t gotten home from his daily morning walk. Keaton was a serious, determined walker who used the daily routine to keep his weight down. Walking and a change in diet had led him to a 100-pound weight loss over two years.
Ploe recounted her mother saying he knew they needed to be at Adventure of Faith Church to volunteer at Emmanuel’s Clothes Closet by 9. And, in any event, her dad was always home from his walk by about 7:45 a.m.
Preparing to pick up her 11-year-old daughter Emma, who had spent Friday night at her grandparents’ house, Ploe got a second call. It was from her daughter — there had been an accident and she needed to head to her mom’s house immediately. Grabbing her two younger kids and getting them in the car, she then got a third call, again from her daughter.
“I heard screaming and crying ‘No, no, no!’ Then the phone disconnected. My mom called back and she said, ‘Tawnie, it’s your dad. He’s gone.’”
Arriving at the scene of the accident in South Kitsap, Ploe found her mom and her daughter by the side of the road in hysterics, screaming and crying.
Later, as the shell-shocked family members left for their vehicles, law enforcement officers were there to help comfort them.
“The police were so helpful at that moment,” Ploe said. “They helped me get my mom to her car and secured. I took my mom home — and just waited. At that moment, we knew it was him, there was no question it was him.”
Since then, Ploe and her sister Allison Wareham are keeping their mother, and each other, within reach. Family members — mother, daughters and grandchildren — are struggling through the shock and pain even as they hold each other for comfort.
“We’re getting by,” Ploe said the Monday morning after the tragedy, before receiving word that the suspected hit-and-run driver had turned herself in to authorities.
“We’ve been through a rollercoaster of emotions. We’ve been numb, we’ve been angry. But we were able to smile last night with the news that they [Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office] know who they’re looking for. We’re able to laugh and able to feel a little bit better knowing that the police have done a fantastic job in trying to solve my dad’s murder.”
An amazing man
He’s passed away and no longer physically part of their lives, but Michael Keaton — also known lovingly as “Pop Pop” — seemingly will always shine a light on his family.
“My dad was amazing,” Ploe said as she leafed through a plastic storage bin full of family photos. She said her father — a proud 20-year Navy veteran — was all about family.
“He was just the best dad,” she said. “He loved his family. He was the best husband to my mom. They just celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary, and their marriage is what I hope my marriage will be. They were the best example.
“My dad loved my mom and his grandchildren more than anything. My sister and I were talking about it yesterday — we knew how much he loved us, but we both agreed that my mom and all six of his grandkids were his entire world. He lived and breathed for them.”
Keaton’s eldest grandchild Emma was especially close to her grandfather. She remembers their occasional trips to eat out — the latest a visit was to a local pancake breakfast restaurant. It was time for just the two of them. And he shared time with the other grandkids in a similar fashion.
Keaton loved his wife and grandkids so much, his daughter said, that he lost 100 pounds so he could have more time with them. He did it by walking and changing his diet. And his dedication and desire to live a healthy lifestyle filtered through to his family.
“We had an app on our phones that we could track each other’s steps,” she remembered. “We would challenge each other to see who could get more steps in a day.”
Keaton’s walking regimen was his primary exercise routine and he was a regular figure walking along Sidney Road in the early morning hours. Ploe said her father started dropping the pounds while her own family — her husband just retired from the Army, and their two daughters and a son — were living in California at the time.
“Every time he would come to visit us or we’d come home to visit, we’d see how drastic the changes were. We were always so proud of him and were so glad he was trying [to lose weight],” she said.
Such a tragic loss sometimes shines a light on a bittersweet discovery for a grief-stricken family, as it did for this one: the qualities that their dad, Pop-Pop and husband possessed, shined well beyond their own lives.
“We knew he was a great man, but after putting so much out on Facebook and getting so much support from the community, we hadn’t realized how great of a man he really was,” Ploe said. “I’m getting messages from people across the country who were impacted by my dad.
“We’re now finding out that on his walks, he would wave and smile, and so many people were touched by that.”
And while this greatly loved man is gone, Keaton has left a legacy for others to live up to.
That isn’t lost on Ploe: “I just hope my husband and I can teach our kids to be like Pop Pop and show compassion, show love, be supportive, be a good person and know a smile or a wave can have such an impact on someone’s life.”