A Wrong Turn

Fred Mueller steered his truck through the open-window welcome of Gulf air atop the I-45 Causeway, descending into his first Galveston Isle-style Mardi Gras adventure. This 17-year-old Bellaire student had installed a stereo system in the old F-150 pickup that now pulsed to the mellow reggae sounds of SOJA. He reached the rendezvous point for a dozen or so other Bellaire teens at the Breakers condo unit, owned by the grandparents of one of them. Ahead was the inaugural night of festivities and a friend's birthday.

After a few minutes of greetings, Mueller and two classmates left to score some food. They climbed into his truck and he eased onto Seawall Boulevard. That route west took them through smudges of fog rather than fast-food joints. Mueller edged into the center turn lane, preparing to head back the other way.

Suddenly, the exterior of his driver's side door seemed to explode. The impact jointed the pickup, jamming the door. The teens slid out the passenger's side and hurried around the F-150.

The truck had taken a one-ton hit of metal and chrome, as well as human bone, flesh and fluid. The kids saw the carcass of what had been a Harley-Davidson Ultra Glide motorcycle. Its rider sprawled on his back on the ground, feet still dangling at the base of the pickup. Dark liquid quickly masked the motorcyclist's face; it poured from his mouth and a deep gash in his head, forming a path that oozed over the pavement toward the bay.

Mueller's 911 call began at 6:26 p.m. on this Saturday, February 26, 2011. "Hey dude, we need an ambulance right now! Right away, sir," the youthful voice said. "A motorcycle just hit my truck. And the guy, I think he's dead, sir. I think the guy's out..." He urgently tried to answer the operator's question about his location on Seawall, or whether he could see any identifying hotels. "Aw, shit. I'm trying to find one. Uh, give me a second..."

The motorcyclist "just came out of nowhere," as Mueller was making a U-turn, he explained. The reduced visibility and the unfamiliar setting left him clueless about the specific location. "Excuse me, I'll put you on the phone with a grownup." A woman's voice followed, along with the confirmation that they were in the 8300 block. "He's dead," the woman said. "It looks like he's dead..."

Galveston Fire Department paramedics began frantic efforts to revive the biker. Some witnesses said the action slowed in the absence of any response from the motionless man. As they handled the body, more clothing was exposed. Mueller heard a shout from them that triggered a new flurry of attention:

"Oh my God — he's one of us!"

Physicians at John Sealy Hospital's emergency room formally concluded that Christopher Norregaard, 49, was dead. He had been more than just a biker. For 25 years, the local construction contractor carried Badge 733 of the Jamaica Beach Volunteer Fire Department. His father retired after a career as an area firefighter — one son was also a volunteer firefighter; another was a GFD officer. The extended family further validated their Born-on-the- Island status.

Norregaard was "one of us." Mueller wasn't. This Bellaire teen, with his Justin Bieber swept-brown hair and boyish looks, began sensing that in the eyes of these police and medical technicians, he might as well have been from a foreign land.

His first Mardi Gras adventure rapidly morphed into the grim, stark cadence of a Miranda warning.

Frederick Gustav Mueller would spend the next months trying to persuade Galveston authorities that, no, he wasn't really a drunken kid who had killed one of their own. His charge: intoxication manslaughter, a felony that could send him to prison for the next 20 years of his life.

Some news reports said Norregaard had joined other Jamaica Beach firefighters and police for warm-up Mardi Gras festivities at a party in the Academy Sports parking lot on Seawall. They stated that he rode for home to escape the increasing traffic, while some of his peers boarded fire trucks for a Mardi Gras parade. Troy Beasley, a fire captain, told the Galveston Daily News how hard it was for those crews to "hold it together" once their fire radio crackled with the message that their colleague was dead. Locked into the parade line, they had 40 more blocks to endure of throng-lined streets of revelers, blaring music and the controlled mayhem called Mardi Gras.

Parade route barricades spawned the expected traffic backups. In one of those was a car containing Randy Seehausen and his wife Paola. They were trying to get to John Sealy Hospital and their son, Fred Mueller. Paola remembers the unsettling sights through the windshield. Emergency sirens whooped to the crowds' delight. Fire trucks crawled by with animated riders clutching plastic drink cups and tossing trinkets to cheering audiences.

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George Flynn
Contact: George Flynn