Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Keith V. Nepsa dies 'of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'

Friends of Keith Nepsa, the Army private from New Philadelphia who died in Iraq Saturday, are reeling from his unexpected loss.

Dino Martino, Nepsa’s former boss when he worked at New Philadelphia’s Texas Roadhouse, heard about his death on Saturday.

The news hit Martino hard, he said. Unable to sleep, he stayed up and created a MySpace page – – dedicated to his friend.

Tributes to the fallen soldier have appeared on that site as well as Nepsa’s personal MySpace page, Nepsa’s mother, Michele, apparently posted an announcement there of her son’s death:

“He was a wonderful person and loved life to the fullest. You all have been blessed by being a part of his life and have brought so much to his. Please remember him for the life-loving, kind person that he was,” she wrote.

“He truly was a good kid,” Martino said Monday, adding that he hoped he had made a difference in Nepsa’s life.

Martino described Nepsa as an occasionally immature kid when he first started at the Roadhouse, but he and Martino, who was a new manager when Nepsa started to work for him, both matured over the years and became friends, Martino said.

Martino last saw Nepsa in the fall when he stopped by the Roadhouse on his 21st birthday while on leave. The two caught up for about an hour and a half, Martino said.

Marci Haught of Columbus, a former New Philadelphia resident whose brother, Curtis, was one of Nepsa’s best friends, also spoke highly of her friend.

When asked about fond memories of Nepsa, Haught recalled playful moments from his youth, including when Nepsa and brother Curtis fired shots from their BB guns into a ventilation duct that connected Curtis’ room to hers. Enraged at the time, she went into her little brother’s room only to find Nepsa laughing hysterically. The thought of it makes her laugh now, too.

“That’s my all-time favorite,” she said.

Curtis Haught of New Philadelphia said Nepsa, who he was close to since both were 8, was the best friend “anyone could ever ask for.” Nepsa got along with everyone, he added.

Nepsa attended a science field trip to Costa Rica in 2003, where Barry Zehnder, a science teacher at New Philadelphia High, said Nepsa was eager to resolve any problems the group faced.

“He was a great kid,” Zehnder said. “Very upbeat, quick to smile. He had a real adult sense of humor. (He was) mature, very energetic.”

He said one thing set Nepsa apart from other students: He didn’t allow himself to be boxed into social groups and enjoyed being friends with all students.

“With social boundaries of groups in school, there didn’t seem to be a boundary for him,” he said. “He moved in all social circles.”

When Nepsa was home on leave, he would stop at his alma mater to visit with teachers, not forgetting Zehnder. Nepsa visited the school in October but didn’t have a chance to see Zehnder. He said it had been “quite a while” since they last spoke.

The two usually talked about military issues, because that was Nepsa’s life and because Zehnder knew other students stationed in Iraq. He was constantly concerned about Nepsa’s well-being, curious as to whether Nepsa was close to hazardous situations.

“I always told him to remember to keep his head down,” Zehnder said. “I was always worried about him.”

Debra Durham, former teacher’s assistant at East Elementary at New Philadelphia, recalls vividly the day she met the then 4-year-old Nepsa. He was taken into the school by his brother Josh, then 7, whom Durham tutored.

“Keith playfully hid behind Josh, playing peek-a-boo over his shoulder,” she said. “The brotherly love and bonding was obvious.”

She remembers the two running and laughing through the classroom and later wrestling on the floor like puppies.

“They were once little boys, with all of life ahead of them,” Durham said. “Now, so sadly, Keith’s life ended in Iraq.”

From the Times Reporter