Emeka Rowland Nwosu was someone to count on — the kind of person who cared about others and helped whenever needed. Last Saturday, for example, he went to the Herrity Building — where he worked as an engineer for Fairfax County — to unlock a door for a co-worker who'd forgotten his keys.
"Then he was going to drop off his son at a soccer game," said the co-worker, long-time friend Patrick Nnaji. "He'd already taken his daughter to an activity at her elementary school."
On Sunday night, Nwosu, 48, of Chantilly's Winding Brook community, and a friend paid a condolence visit to someone from his home state of Anambra, in eastern Nigeria, who'd lost a relative. The next day, though, friends and family members were making the same type of call to Nwosu's home.
BEFORE PAYING the condolence call, he'd met a friend in Woodbridge, and they went together in the friend's car. They returned to Woodbridge, early Monday morning, around 1 a.m., and Nwosu picked up his car, got onto the Fairfax County Parkway and headed for home.
But he never made it. Just north of Burke Centre Parkway, his Toyota Camry started giving him trouble, so he pulled over to the right northbound shoulder of the county parkway and stopped. He phoned a few friends for help and waited.
Fairfax County police say he was on the passenger side of his car, around 2:15 a.m., when a vehicle believed to be a Ford F-250 or F-350 Super Duty pickup truck smashed into the rear end of Nwosu's car, ejecting him and pushing the Toyota several yards before it flipped over.
The driver took off, heading north on the county parkway, and Nwosu died at the scene. Police are now looking for a truck painted "Toreador Red" (burgundy tones) and having extensive, front-end damage. Anyone with information about the crash, the truck or its driver is asked to call police at 703-691-2131 or Crime Solvers at 800-673-2777.
Besides a $1,000 reward being offered by Crime Solvers, a private reward of $5,000 is also being offered for information leading to an arrest and indictment. "Callers do not have to appear in court and can remain anonymous," said police Sgt. Jeff Gossett. "We're hoping that someone might have been in the area at the time of the accident and saw something."
The tragedy devastated Nwosu's wife, Nchekwube "Edith," an eighth-grade science teacher at Stone Middle School, and their three children, sons Emeka Jr., 13, an eighth-grader at Rocky Run Middle, and Nzube, 7, a Brookfield Elementary third-grader, and daughter Chinwe, 10, a Brookfield fourth-grader.
IT ALSO left his friends and co-workers grief-stricken. A county employee since 1987, Nwosu worked in the Environmental and Facilities Review Division. He reviewed site plans for both commercial and residential developments and was the chief of site review for projects in the Providence and Mason districts.
"We found out [Monday] morning," said Bruce Nassimbeni, director of Nwosu's division. "He was one of my three assistants and had worked for me for 14 years. Reactions in the office ranged from shock to disbelief. He was a very caring individual. He cared deeply about his children and his work. He was fun-loving and always in a good mood — cheerful all the time."
Nwosu worked on the fifth floor of the Herrity Building, and his friend Nnaji worked on the sixth floor as chief mechanical engineer with the Office of Building Code Services. "I knew him for at least 15 years," said Nnaji. "He came from Nigeria, and so did I, and we soon became good friends."
He said Nwosu's part of Nigeria was formerly called Biafra and his name, Emeka, means "thanks be to God" in the Ibo language. Nwosu came to the U.S. in 1984 and obtained a bachelor of science in civil engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He later received his masters from Howard University.
"My children were devastated when they came home from school and heard the news," said Nnaji. "I was on my way to work, Monday morning, when a friend of mine called and told me. I then went to see his family. I could not believe it. He came to my office on Friday, and we talked on Saturday. This is one of the worst tragedies I've ever experienced."
"You couldn't find a person in this building who would say a bad word about him," he continued. "The man lived for his children and was a fantastic family man. He was involved in Fairfax County Toastmasters and was taking Tai Chi classes. He was a spiritual person and attended Ox Hill Baptist Church in Chantilly. And he was a born leader — somebody who, if you call upon him, he'll be there."
ANOTHER long-time friend, Peter Okoli, also from Anambra State, agreed. "Anytime there was a problem with family or friends, he'd take the lead to solve it," he said. "If you asked him for one dollar, he would give you a dozen. If he didn't have it, he would borrow it to give to you."
Nwosu and Okoli worked together for Fairfax County for 15 years, before Okoli left. "He was the type of person you wanted around you all the time because he was so sweet and always smiling," he said. "And he was a good father and husband."
Nwosu was also active in several Nigerian community organizations, including people from his state association, the Friendship Association. And he was even knighted by these organizations — twice.
"He was knighted by the Religious and Military Order of Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, in 1998, said Nnaji. "And he was also knighted by the Royal House of Alabona — a part of what used to be the Holy Roman Empire, but is now in exile."
In fact, said Nnaji, before paying the condolence call, Sunday, Nwosu had gone to an Anambra Association meeting in Maryland. Then came the hit-and-run.
"APPARENTLY, his car broke down, between 1 and 1:40 a.m., or so," said Nnaji. "He called his friend in Woodbridge, but he'd gone to bed. He called a co-worker, Ben Aaron, on his cell phone, but he'd turned it off. I heard the message, the next day. It said, 'If you get this message, call me. My car broke down. I'm stranded on the Fairfax County Parkway.' But by the time they got the message, he had died."
"If the guy had just stopped — or even called 911 and said, 'There was an accident; somebody may be wounded' — at least he would have been given a chance to survive," said Nnaji. "But for the guy to run away without caring that he'd injured someone is unfathomable, and it irritates everyone. I'm still in shock. I keep hoping I'm in a dream and, when I wake up, it'll be a bad nightmare."
Contributions for the children, payable to the Emeka, Nzubechukwu and Chinwe Nwosu Benefit Fund may be sent to that fund name, c/o Bank of America, 12011 Lee Jackson Memorial Hwy., Fairfax, VA 22033.