Wife and mother of motorcycle victims speaks about her loss, drunk driving awareness
By Craig Marx, Editor
The events of July 8th, 2017 broke a family apart as Robert Korhonen and his daughter, Stacey Zarda, were struck by a drunk driver on Highway 49 in Portage County, killing Korhonen and placing Zarda in critical condition. Despite the lifelong motorcycle enthusiast’s untimely passing, Korhonen leaves behind a legacy of a great father, chivalrous husband, and caring man.
“Nobody deserves this. It didn’t happen to a loser dad and a deadbeat mom,” Robert’s wife, Jody, said recently. “He loved us and he loved his family. He was my Superman.”
Robert and Jody had been together since 1989 and were married in 1993. Originally from Milwaukee, the couple has lived in Antigo for the past 20 years. Robert worked at JARP Industries as a machinist for the past ten years while Jody ran a day care business out of their home. A hard worker, Robert took time out of his break every day since the couple was together to call Jody at home and say hello. As a loving and compassionate husband, Jody noted the attraction and genuine love that had existed all the way through their relationship.
“Every single night since we’ve been together he would tell me he loved me before we went to bed,” Jody said. “He called me every day on his break at work. After 27 years, it still felt like we had just started dating. That giddiness was still there for both of us. He was just so proud of his family and we never lost that feeling. Every time we went out it felt like a first date. He still opened doors for me, ever since we were 18 and 20 when we first met. It’s weird opening doors for myself. Every time we would go to a restaurant, he would always open the door for me. That never stopped. He respected women, he respected everyone.”
Robert enjoyed his time cooking out, particularly steak, along with baking and desserts, and, despite the avid biker in him, Korhonen even enjoyed watching Barbie movies with his granddaughters. The benevolent man’s greatest passion, other than his family, was riding motorcycles, a hobby that he both enjoyed and pursued responsibly.
“He loved his motorcycle. He has been a motorcycle enthusiast all his life ever since he could basically walk and he has always been a safe rider. I wanted people to know that,” Jody added. “He always watched what other [drivers] were doing, always kept his distance – we avoided so many accidents in the past from people coming into us, but when someone blindly comes out in front of you, it’s like hitting a wall.”
Robert and Jody frequently rode together, taking in the Honor Flight Ride every year as one of their favorite rides on his Harley. Before Robert’s passing in July, the couple was in the process of planning a biker’s dream vacation for next year, discussing a possible trip to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota – a place neither of them had been to before.
When not pursuing his motorcyclist passion, Robert was also an animal lover, especially his mastiff-boxer mixed dog, Saxon. In the same vain as Barbie movies, Robert was also an avid coupon enthusiast where his exploits in savings at the checkout line were near legendary.
“We would save so much, managers would have to come and override how much savings we had. We always had an audience of people at the register watching us,” Jody said with a smile.
A mellow man of many talents and joys, Robert’s motorcycle pursuits included a yearly trip with Stacey to the Iola Old Car Show in Central Wisconsin.
About ten minutes after leaving the 2017 Iola show on the return trip to Antigo, Robert and Stacey collided with a drunk driver, Billie Jo McSherry, who swerved over the centerline and struck the responsible biker and his daughter at over three times the legal alcohol limit while also having her nine-year old daughter in the vehicle while intoxicated.
Robert passed away as a result of the collision while Stacey was later transported to a hospital with critical injuries. Meanwhile, their wife and mother, Jody, was in the hospital in Antigo recovering from emergency gall bladder surgery at the time of the accident.
“It happened at 2 PM on Saturday [July 8]. I was actually in the hospital having my gall bladder removed and I was in the hospital on a Saturday because it was kind of an emergency surgery. I called my friend around 4 PM and said ‘That’s really weird they’re not back, they wouldn’t do that,’ so my friend drove past my house at five and there was a policeman there. I called the police station crying. I already had a feeling, and that’s when the police came to the hospital and told me. The young policeman that came to tell me, he wasn’t much more than a kid himself, but he was really nice. I was disagreeing with him at first because it wasn’t sinking in,” Jody added.
After realizing the severity of the accident and the fatal result caused by an intoxicated motorist, Jody later wished to speak out as a loved one affected by her terrible loss at the hands of a drunk driver.
“This is kind of why I [wanted to talk] because I wanted people to be able to read his story. If it could save one person from drinking and driving it would be worth it. I think the first time is bad but people also make mistakes. You need to learn from them. It seems as if no one in Wisconsin cares until someone is killed. You see people all the time getting arrested for their fourth or fifth offense. Maybe if [people] had gone to jail before, this wouldn’t have happened,” Jody said.
Mrs. Korhonen attended McSherry’s initial appearance in Portage County where nine different charges were compiled against the defendant, including seven felonies. A lawyers-only court date is scheduled for October 2nd.
“I really feel like half of me died. It’s a physical pain. It feels like something was removed from me when he died. Sometimes I’ll plug my phone in so I can make sure I can hear it ring and then I realize he’s not going to call me,” Jody said.
Jody’s daughter, Karissa, has been a great help around the house since the tragedy. With the help of her family, friends, and the community, Jody and her family hope to embody the spirit of Mr. Korhonen as they go forward.
“[This has] literally ripped our family in half and it happened to a good man. He always worked, always provided, and now I lost that,” Jody said in closing.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Per the request of the interviewee, Mrs. Korhonen, updates on the condition of her daughter, Stacey, will not be provided at this time. Please respect the wishes of the family. Thank you.