Be excellent to each other

May we all remember to follow our dreams like Chase Korte did.

Adri Mehra

At about 6:40 p.m. on the evening of Feb. 10, in the dusky climes of the Mojave Valley of southern California, rising film star Chase Korte was just driving along in the slow lane, relieved and excited about his plans for the future.

The Elk River native and recent University of Minnesota graduate had just met with the director of the film he had been working on for the past six months and patched up some creative differences with her.

The project, “Peace Walker,” chronicled a fictional American man as he walked 1,100 miles across the breadth of the United Kingdom to pay tribute to his brother, who was killed in Iraq.

Chase had been unhappy with director Tara Golden’s decision to continue filming scenes featuring his character back home in the United States, as he felt that they had more than enough quality footage abroad from which to carve the right film.

According to Golden, they hadn’t spoken much in the past two months, and had finally agreed to meet halfway – literally.

Halfway between Golden’s ranch in Sedona, Ariz., and Chase’s new apartment in Hollywood, they met in Bullhead City, Ariz., a town of about 40,000, located about 100 miles south of Las Vegas on the Colorado River.

Golden filmed her last interview with Chase on a motel balcony in Bullhead City, where she half-jokingly asked Chase what he wanted to say to the “millions” that would be watching.

Chase responded with a quote from the 1989 slacker time-travel comedy “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

“Be excellent to each other,” Chase said in that wry, quiet way of his, just before reaching over to Golden for a hearty handshake.

Chase then left the motel and Bullhead City at about 6 p.m. to make the five-hour drive back to Los Angeles.

Forty minutes later, on Interstate 40 Westbound, about four miles east of Needles, Calif., Chase’s white Pontiac Grand Am was struck from behind by a 2006 Chrysler 300 reportedly traveling well over 100 miles per hour.

Chase’s car burst into flames and overturned several times, leaving him “trapped,” according to the San Bernardino Sun.

By the time the California Highway Patrol reached the scene, the vehicle was engulfed in flames. They only discovered Chase’s body after they put the fire out.

So what, you ask, happened to the other guy and his car?

The other driver, Michael Loya, 31, of Corona, Calif., was taken to Needles Desert Community Hospital for treatment of minor injuries to his feet.

According to the Mohave Daily News, Loya’s car – which still had paper dealer-installed license plates – had sustained “total front damage” as a result of the collision, but Loya had survived with barely a scratch.

He was then released and booked at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s jail facility on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence of alcohol and child endangerment.

Loya had a 3-year-old passenger in the car with him, who suffered moderate injuries, according to the Mohave Daily News.

According to Chase’s Los Angeles roommate Andrew Amani, the State of California is pressing charges against Loya, and a hearing might already be set.

In an e-mail I received last Friday, Carol Hasselmann, victim services coordinator for the Minnesota office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, stated that “we are not sure just yet about the driver of the other car, but we think that this was not his first offense.”

Local CBS affiliate WCCO-TV also reported that Loya (then unidentified) had been convicted before.

Hasselmann continued, “MADD will be involved here in Minnesota and in California to help the friends and family and to see that the driver doesn’t get behind the wheel again.”

Chase was my roommate for his last semester at the University. He moved to Los Angeles in January 2006, less than a month after graduating.

Just two weeks before, I sent him his final share of our old apartment’s security deposit – which was returned to us last October – as Chase was putting down a new deposit on his first real apartment in Hollywood.

The day before he died, Chase finally joined the elite Screen Actors Guild – a society of film actors inclusive only to those who have earned a certain number of credits through commercial and industry shoots.

Chase’s agent, Nancy Kremer, said his career was going “gangbusters” and that she was “very confident he would get some major leads in films and TV series in Hollywood,” according to the Star Tribune.

Last Saturday afternoon, more than 1,000 people traveled from as far as Los Angeles and London to remember Chase Korte at Elk River High School, 40 miles north of the Twin Cities.

Many of us found ourselves wishing that the driver of the other car had died in a fiery blaze.

And yet, as a friend of mine had the maturity to point out, all Mr. Loya would have needed to want to end his own life was an hour at Chase’s memorial service, in the company of hundreds of agonized friends and family.

Thousands of communities in America are similarly devastated each year by drunken-driving murderers.

Again, please write to Congress about zero tolerance. Visit madd.org for more details.

Adri Mehra welcomes comments at [email protected]