Lucca Criminale and Sharon Lunz

Recorded June 17, 2009 Archived June 17, 2009 38:23 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBY005583


Sharon and Lucca remember Lucca’s husband, Tom Clausing, who passed away almost a year ago in a helicopter accident.

Subject Log / Time Code

Tom Clausing was Lucca’s husband for 21 years. He lived a truly adventurous life.
Tom died June 29, 2008 in a helicopter crash. His Air Medical Helicopter collided with another.
Legacy books filled with students who wrote of Tom’s impact on them.
Lucca misses having a partner and knowing he is there. If she could, she would tell him he lived his life right. People say he was a hero because he saved lives. Lucca thinks he was a hero because he was so motivated and lived so passionately.
Lucca spoke to Tom on the phone the night before he died. He told her of a helicopter accident earlier in the day and told her what was done wrong and how it could be prevented. He told her not to worry, but also said there are some things out of his control. She found out the next afternoon that he had been killed.
Some of her favorite memories are of quiet moments at home. She remembers planting aspen trees with him. He sat under the “king aspen” tree in the fall.


  • Lucca Criminale
  • Sharon Lunz

Recording Location

MobileBooth West


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00:07 Sharon lunz, I'm 50 years old. It's June 17th 2009 in Wenatchee Washington and I am a longtime friend kayaking buddy skiing buddy of Lucas.

00:24 My name is Lucca criminale. I'm 42 years old today is June 17th, 2009 and where in Wenatchee Washington and I am also a longtime friend and Adventure partner of Sharon.

00:40 Lucca Tom lived an incredibly unique life. Can you talk a little bit about what he did for work and for play and and how your guys's lies together evolved over the years sure Tom clausing with my husband and partner for 20 years almost 21 years actually.

00:58 And he led I would say a life of adventure and motivation. I met him in 1988 in working for a white water rafting company and he was going through the guy training and he he made a life of doing what he loved to do. He love to be in the outdoors and originally our jobs that we shared together or river rafting and ski patrolling and Tom also loved medical work and he was an EMT and he worked sort of an immortal digital Sense on an ambulance, but then he built that to become a paramedic and he combined that with his love of doing things in the wilderness. So he and I started a business called rescue Specialists the top Wilderness first aid courses and so Tom kind of built a business from some of his experiences in the wilderness where he gave first aid to different people and he decide

01:58 That he felt he had enough experience to teach that so we started a business doing that but he also felt like he was never a legitimate at teaching that unless he actually worked in the field. So he also worked as a paramedic will in a lot of different places in our home town of Leavenworth Washington and then also for the National Park Service and Grand Canyon where he didn't work as a paramedic in the backcountry and then most recently for a flight Air Lift program out of Page, Arizona, so I guess in a nutshell Tom, he loved the outdoors. He lived and worked in the outdoors. He love medicine and he combined all of those sort of in in lifelong work. I'm pretty much for the 20 years that we spent together.

02:50 You feel like talking about how he died. I do Tom died almost exactly a year ago now he died on June 29th 2008 and he was in an air medical helicopter that collided with another helicopter as the two of the both helicopters were approaching Flagstaff Medical Center, and he was one of seven people crew members and two patients that died that day.

03:19 And there's a picture of Tom with a big grin on his face that we're looking at right now. And what about Tom made you smile and it still makes you smile. I think you know his intensity he was he was motivated. I guess Beyond any person I've ever met when he decided he wanted to do something. He just he just found a way to do it and Logistics and finances didn't seem to be an option. But when I look at this picture what makes me smile is his goofy grin because although he had his kind of outward professional side what makes me smile is just the way he loved Adventures the way he loved Adventures at work and playing and discovering new things and learning new things and that picture that we have on the table in front of us kind of encompasses that he just has a goofy look in his eyes and like he's looking forward to

04:19 Next Adventure Time was notoriously camera. Shy you capture that is impressive. He has his self portrait, but you're right. He hated his to have his picture taken and it was part of I guess part of the fact that he just didn't like to be recognized for what he did, but you're right. He didn't he didn't like his picture taken. So most of the pictures I have of him or of him covering his face or with that kind of scowl on his face as he realizes that somebody is taking his picture or turning his head at the last words exactly. How would Tom's friends describe him. I would think that Tom's friends and co-workers most of which I think we're his friends as well would describe him as as pretty intense. He had an amazing ability to stay focused and clear in the face of I guess some pretty unbelievable disasters in

05:19 Jordan sees that he responded to and I think

05:23 But he was also friends would describe him as probably mad and maddeningly competent. I mean, he was one of those people that would just so easily pick up anything that he decided to do and become incredibly good at it and yet not want anybody to recognize that so I know that his competence and his ease of doing things were were source of Amazement of his friends, but also sometimes a source of frustration I think because people just didn't understand how he could so easily pick things up and why he couldn't drop his motivation to become better at whatever he did.

06:02 Some of the comments that people wrote, you know online in the Legacy books. I mean, there was some incredible impact that he had on friends, you know, if there any of those it yeah, you know, I think it's interesting because Tom Tom talked Wilderness medicine courses for I guess about 15 years and he had a high standard that probably nobody else. I've met could ever stand up to and he was frustrated sort of at the state of the education that he received when he went through paramedic school a thought it could be a lot better and I think what he created with rescue Specialists was the educational ideal. He always wished he had and I don't think he really believed that many of the students understood that and yet after he died to write the Legacy books. I couldn't believe how many dozens and dozens and even maybe a hundred

07:02 Spell Road in and said they had never had an instructor who impacted their learning and their life as much as Tom and these are people who went to medical school who you know had a wide variety of other education. And so yeah, the the impact he had I I don't know if he understood it at the time. I think he believed in a certain standard but I don't think he fully realized how how he actually made it be, you know how and the impact that he had on students. I remember a couple of statements. Also were people said that that his instruction had led them into a life of becoming a medical practitioner being an EMT or a ski patroller or a paramedic or even some people who said they had gone to medical school because of this his education that he gave them even for just a short time. I don't know.

07:59 And that you know what he had so many talents which is amazing it mean what other special talents so he can ski he could bike he can run he was tall and kind of lanky and lean and yeah, he would just pick up anything like maybe one example was a cross-country skiing. I dearly love to skate ski and tell him I say maybe sometimes was a little befuddled with how addicted I was to it. He liked it as well. But to give you an example of his talents, you know, he would maybe ski once a week and it would always frustrate me because I would ski every day and yet when we skied together, I could never I could never keep up with him.

08:45 Tom had a singular talent for exploring to Huey. He loved to go check out new places be that on his bicycle or hiking or often inside a helicopter, which was one of his love is as well. So he had a hit a lot of special talents as far as physically and educationally is well. Yeah, he was like the stealth gear like how did he get so good at this so fast. This isn't fair. It's it often seemed like it wasn't fair. Is there something about time that you think no one else knows?

09:23 But you won't share. I think there is I think that friends and co-workers would see him as this incredibly proficient practitioner very motivated intense and single-minded and I I would say probably what people don't know is that really his favorite activity was sitting at home on the porch at the end of the day and listening to the Aspen leaves and watching the sun, you know set on the far Ridge. So I think that

09:56 I think that a lot of people would not know just how Tom did like the moments of quiet and serenity that that was something that he shared with myself and maybe a few close friends, but that was not his public Persona at all. You know, I think as a paramedic you get a reputation for I don't know saving lives action quick things but truly I think Tom was happiest when things were calm and quiet around him and if he could have I think he would have chosen to you know to be able to sit at home and do his light years in his life and continue to enjoy that quiet on the porch that I wouldn't I wouldn't have described him as I can see him. Just kicking back in the rocking chair.

10:43 How are you different now then before you met Tom? Well, I think I've changed a lot since I met Tom, I think I've always been a pretty quiet and shy person and when I met Tom

10:57 I wasn't a very good communicator and if there was ever any conflict in our relationship or something like that, I would be the 10 of person who would just clam up and just you know, hope that by not addressing it would pass which of course never happens and Tom was very blunt and open he often bemoaned the fact that he didn't think the rest of the world was good at that and that by communicating openly and bluntly and bringing up problems when they were when they came up that he seemed to stir up conflict in a lot of places he worked and so I think I've come around to realize how how smart a way that is to live. And now when I'm at work or at play and if there's some issue that comes up, I'm now the first person to bring it up and talk about it and want to deal with it. And so I think I've changed completely 180 from when I first met time.

11:57 That's pretty cool. What do you wonder about time?

12:03 You know, I wonder in the years we were together. We spent a fair amount of time apart, you know both by choice and because of our different locations and

12:14 And we understood that and we accepted it, would always say you know that we more time once we're done with this job or that course or this project. They'll be more kind of sit on the porch. And and in the end in the end. What I wonder is whether it's whether it's worth it given what what happened whether he truly ever thought that this could be the way his life would end. He was no

12:44 He was not naive to the danger that his job FaceTime with everyday but he was very proactive about safety and we talked about it. But I guess what I wonder is did he ever truly consider that this was a possibility and understand the impact it would have you know, selfishly I guess on me. Did he ever really think that this could happen and then all of his I guess dreaming project are now one that I have for myself and for his memory.

13:20 And we never think it's going to really happen to us.

13:25 What do you miss the most about Tom?

13:29 Well most I guess it's just having a partner if you're with somebody for that long of time. Even with our lives spending a fair amount of time apart be kind of always know that there.

13:44 So what do I miss most is just knowing that you said if you could talk to him right now, what would you say?

13:52 Hangouts

13:59 I would tell him a couple things, but mostly I guess I would tell him that.

14:04 He was right in the way. He lived had a deep impact. Just let me.

14:10 But lot of people

14:12 And that he showed.

14:15 That is open as his bluntness. His motivation is an amazing way to live.

14:27 How do you think that he would want to be remembered? You think that's that's what he would think about her. I think you would be really really happy to know.

14:37 That he is remembered fondly and

14:43 You know that he's made a deep impact on these students. I think he would be

14:51 He would be fulfilled to know that and you know, the interesting thing is when somebody in the EMS world dies, you get a lot of people telling you that that person was a hero and what they mean is he was a hero because he saved lives and I think Tom would not want to be remembered that way. I think he was a hero but not because he worked as a paramedic because he was motivated. He was honest he followed, you know his dreams for what he wanted to do, but I think Tom would be happy to know that he is Remembered in that way.

15:27 You know how I think I would want to tell him that.

15:32 Do you ever dream about Tom?

15:34 You know, I have had just a few dreams since he died and I'll tell you a couple stories about time. I think you're pretty well aware that when he decided a project needed to be done whether it was going out into the field to to mow it with the tractor or building a new deck in the Gully for classroom. I mean when he decided there was a project to be done. He was Unstoppable and he would not come in the house. He would not be distracted. He would not be sidetracked with all that was done. And so one of the dreams I had after he died, which I think is pretty ironic and humorous in retrospect is I dreamed

16:16 That it was the day we were getting married and in the dream the wedding was far more formal than our actual wedding was and everybody was there. I can't honestly remember whether it was a church or just a public gathering place. But everybody was there all the friends all the family the minister, you know the witnesses to sign the marriage certificate and I was there all dressed up in this big white dress, which is pretty funny female, but we were all there and Tom with late and it wasn't like in the dream we were wondering wasn't going to show up we knew he was going to show up. We just knew he was busy doing something and in the dream, he finally showed up two hours late. I mean literally hundreds of people have been sitting in this I just remember hot sweaty building and he showed up and he was just incredulous that anybody would be annoyed that he was late to his own wedding. He said something in the dream. I don't remember exactly but he said something like well I have things to do I was going to get

17:16 Air when I was done with them so that the funniest things I've had that I've had since Tom died. I haven't had any sad dreams and I haven't had any dreams where he talked to me, but I've had that dream I remember specifically in a couple others along the same lines that really embody kind of the way he was in life.

17:40 What was your relationship like if you want to talk a little bit about some of what I meant to you and what your relationship was letting, you know, we started out 21 years old doing outdoor seasonal jobs ski patrolling rafting, you know living in a little trailer.

18:00 Baylor a little single wide trailer and then we evolved into eventually more professional things. You know where Tom was a paramedic and I became a physician assistant and

18:14 Our relationship was was often Tom coming up with new ideas and me having doubts as to whether we could do them and him convincing me that yes, we could and then we would do them together and succeed succeed. He also was a tremendous motivator to me because I think some of the things that I did like going back to school, you know it about age 39 to become a physician assistant. I truly don't think I would have done that without his motivation and assurance that I could do it and do a really good job of it and his is a reminder to me that not everybody has such opportunities meant that I should not turn them down when they present themselves.

18:58 Talk a little bit about your last interaction with Tom.

19:03 Well the last time I ever spoke to him it was the night before he died and he was in Arizona and I was in Washington and being in the air medical industry, especially in the last year or two there been a lot of crashes and Tom was one of those people who is proactive about safety and when there was an accident, he would immediately research it and find out what human errors had been made and how they needed to be changed and improved. And so sometimes you know, I would read in the news on would see there was a helicopter crash and I would call him up and he would already know the details about it and such but at night the night before he died. He called me up and he said to hear about the crash and I said no what crash and there had been I don't know if I didn't call the crash maybe it was more of a hard land of a helicopter that had come into a scene and the dusted blown up on the road as a helicopter came in and they had lost visual reference to the ground and hard landing and I I don't believe there were.

20:03 Serious injuries at all with the helicopter in the crew, but nevertheless the helicopter was damaged.

20:09 And Tom had all those details for me already, even though that just happened in the afternoon and he said so here there's that were made, you know, and here's what what could be done to improve that and you know, and he said so he said so don't worry about me. Okay, and that was that was the last time I talked to him.

20:28 In the next day in the afternoon.

20:32 It was when I got that work.

20:47 It seems like Tom's focus on safety carried through to everything is just

20:55 It did I think Tom was completely uncompromising. And I you know, I I I think we

21:02 We talked about his job being dangerous and he would continually reassure me. He would say Luca. He said I will never get that helicopter. If I'm not certain that I have done everything I can to keep it safe, but

21:17 You know, he said frequently also he says but there are some things that I can't control but it's true. I never knew anybody who was as proactive about safety and not just in terms of helicopters. But another thing to do as, was he was fully aware of the dangers of his job and he worked hard to mitigate them as best as he could.

21:41 What do you think he would have said about the way he died?

21:46 I think you would have been angry about it. You know, I thought about what if he hadn't been in that helicopter that day.

21:52 I think he would have been angry. I think he would have said it was pretty useless way to lose 7 people and then there were human errors involved.

22:01 And I think he would have been incredibly persistent about changing the errors that led up to that the human errors that led up to that accident, and I don't

22:15 I guess I'll just add and I don't blame the people responsible for those errors, but nevertheless I think like Tom that they have to be completely understood and examined and correcting. Do you think that you know that there's hearings and then tsp is investigating and everything. Do you think that you would all hopeful that?

22:37 Changes will be made. Well, I think some some changes have been made but it's a it's very frustrating as the person who had the direct consequences. I mean, everybody had consequences of peeks co-workers and such but as a person who had maybe more immediate personal consequences, it's frustrating how slow things change I think things will change.

23:00 Slowly but maybe not to the point where I would like them to change to and I think the factor of human.

23:10 I want to say ego but say it in the right way that factor will never be taken out of these accidents what I mean is that people who work in this industry?

23:20 Want to do the right thing, but there is a certain amount of

23:25 I guess I'll say bravado of.

23:28 The risk is part of the enticement for the job for some of the people who work in it. I truly believe that I don't think Tom was one of those people I think he was the anti bravado but I think part of that wall will keep things from changing and I think where there's money to be made and

23:49 Certainly, they will never be any shortage of a need for the air medical industry. I think that change will be slow and probably not to the point where I would like to be.

24:02 We've talked some about what was unique about the way Tom approached his job. But is there anything else you want to add about what he he liked and disliked about being a paramedic. Yeah. Absolutely he had

24:16 I don't know if I would say a love-hate relationship with being a parent take but he loved the work itself and what he loved about it was patient care in the fact that it was always different and he was always learning new things. I mean, he truly loves that he just he would love to have a busy shift at work and learn new things medically and then you know, he would always forever be enhancing that knowledge after the fact when he had an interesting patient what he really disliked about the job was the ego that was involved with a lot of it and I I guess I don't mean to criticize EMS or flight medicine what I mean is that

24:59 I think medicine more than other professions has a large quantity of ego, and I think that

25:07 Tom wanted to always learn more and never have his ego get in the way of learning new things and I think there's a certain percentage of people who work in that profession wear when they've gotten to a certain level of confidence. They feel like they know it all and they are threatened by people who want to learn more

25:26 And that frustrated Tom wherever he worked and I acknowledge that he was a pretty forceful and motivated person and yet I think the reason he had Conflict at some of the places he worked was simply because of other people's Egos and that if people would have taken Tom at is open honest blunt self. They would have realized his goal was never to climb the corporate ladder and you know be able to tell anybody else what to do. He just wanted to learn more for himself and he wanted to be really good at what he did and that was threatening to some people in that part of the job politics don't have no use for that had no patience for it and that that led to some Conflict for sure and different places he work for that was the party didn't like the the nuts and bolts of it the the medicine and the getting to fly over things and look down from helicopter. He

26:26 I've never seen him as happy as when he described some of the things he got to do on his job.

26:31 Flying over the Grand Canyon doesn't hurt when I get dragged him away from his project. He he love to be outside heel of to go kayaking. He was a very good Packer along with a lot of other things. He picked up these leading and he loved to go skiing. He loved to go running and biking he love to listen to his iPod while he went skiing. You could see he would come and get into a Groove doing some of these Sports almost like this is Sven where he would be surfing a wave and you could see him like sticking his tongue out and kind of whack his mouth surfing the big waiver making some turns down a ski slope. He just he like to

27:27 To play as hard as he worked I guess and if he could do that, then he was just happy without distraction. I guess that's how I would put it when he was hiking up beside Canyon and just looking around the next Bend to see what was there. He seemed to lose all of the frustrations that he picked up and in some of his jobs. He could lose it all in the end and that would be what he would love to do on his days off so I can totally see him surfing the Wave A drunkard's Drop and and I had forgotten about the wealth of the tongue working and kind of Bob his head while he was there for the face of the way exactly.

28:12 What would you say? How would you encapsulate Tom's Legacy? We've touched on it throughout the conversation, but

28:23 Try and be concise but is not.

28:29 Times Legacy kind of gov long with what what I have phrased kind of the way he lived and that would be

28:37 Never stop learning to never stop exploring and never put your ego in the way of learning new things and his legacy was I think to show that you can incorporate those principles into play in into work?

28:54 And that you should never be threatened by somebody who knows more than you do. So, I guess that's kind of what I think about is Legacy when I think about the effort in the motivation that he put into creating his own business his own work and into working as a paramedic. Those are his legacy to me that he was capable of living openly and honestly and never having a hidden agenda in anything that he did.

29:24 Would you say that's one of the rules that he lived by? Yeah, absolutely mean. It's also one of the rules that got him in trouble over and over because unfortunately, I think there's a lot of people who don't live that way and does his blunt way of communication put them in conflict with people all the time. You know, he just thought if there was an issue used talk about it. You should bring it up and it wasn't to bring anybody else down. It was just because it was in your talked about it since then you could resolve it and then move on.

29:53 So that was definitely one of those principles and living in that. I learned a lot from being around him and seeing that for 20 years.

30:04 Is there one place that was special to you and Tom more than any other there was you know, we lived in Washington state and very much loved it there. But the Grand Canyon was a very special place for both of us Tom worked as a flight paramedic for the National Park Service and I worked as a white water river guide down in the Grand Canyon still do on occasion and he loved that place. He loved the desert Southwest but the Grand Canyon particular he got to do some River trips with me and that was just it was his second home. I guess I think he felt most at home and back home in Leavenworth Washington, but if there was one place he kept going back to over and over to explore. It was the Grand Canyon and he explored it and buy ground by river and a lot from the air and a helicopter.

30:59 A particular place in the canyon there just to Canyon in general. You think he liked the narrow Slot Canyon so, you know matkatamiba and Willow Canyon are two places in particular. I know that he he loved that Limestone Rock in the narrow canyons and exploring and claiming in those places. Those are two that come that come to me right off the top of my head. I have to say the fact that we were all able to share that last credit. Can you trip together? It's just so incredibly special. It was a great trip and March of 2008 and it was probably the most best free and Melo trip I've ever done and that was really good. Share it with you guys and with Tom, of course.

31:43 Call

31:49 What's your happiest memory of Tom, you know, I don't know that I have one particular memory and that comes up.

31:59 I have some pretty vivid memories of Tom that I'll make me very happy and they're they're Quiet Moments at home. I'd say for example, we planted a row of Aspen trees along the fence down by the road and one of the aspen trees grew for some reason twice as much as all the rest and I remember last year in the fall when all the colors that changed in the Aspen leaves were golden and wrestling in the wind and and he was down at the bottom of the field and I went down and sat with him and he's sitting right underneath the biggest a spiny called King Aspen because there's a music group devices devices big as the others. And so that's one really happy memory. And those are the types of really Vivid memories. I have of him just be small Snippets where I could see that he wasn't thinking about work politics or conflict or the next project. He was just listening to the Aspen leaves in

32:59 You happy that he was there at the moment with me.

33:03 Your slice of paradise

33:07 Was there anything you guys disagreed about fought over head conflict around? You know, I'd say mostly it was it was?

33:18 Motivation and starting new projects. Like I said when Tom would decide to do something he would just say let's do it in my immediate reaction would always be to find three reasons why it might not be such a great idea or why should we should think about it for another month or year? And so we have some conflict about that? Cuz Tom would always say, you know, we we need to think about why we can do it. That way we can't do it, you know, and I wouldn't say it was really a big conflict. It was just something that came up again and again and not in a bad way not like it tore us apart. But in a way that made me realize you know, why all this guy has potential and and I need to be more of an enabler rather than a doubter.

34:13 Do you have any Traditions to honor Tom? I do I mean I just I just take Quiet Moments when I'm out on my morning run or bike ride or whatever to think about him. But one of the things or two of the things I'm really like with strong coffee and Guinness beer and so I've noticed that when people

34:33 Honored Tom, you know at the site where is ashes are or going down on a river trip, the people have gotten into the habit of leaving a full can of Guinness beer in the you know fun place where he would have like to explore as kind of a funny thing cuz he probably would say that would be a waste of Guinness to just leave it here and not drink it but that's become a little bit of a tradition in honoring come and pick a six pack that we planted here and there in a little pocket some and that was our little tribute.

35:12 What's helps you? The most in your grief has passed here.

35:18 I would say family and friends.

35:22 And the memory of time, you know, I miss them every day and I'll always love him.

35:29 But seeing how motivated he was to live life makes me understand that I have to honor that and so I'd say one of the things that's helped me the most it's just not understanding.

35:41 But Tom would not want me to sit at home and mope and cry about him that he would want me to do all of the things that he would still like to be doing and I have to say you've really done a good job, but just keep them going and getting out there and honoring him and that way.

36:02 What are the hardest times the hardest times are?

36:07 Coming home from work to an empty house because of course everything in the house and the property reminds me of Hitman build it together and take care of it. And that's the hardest is sometimes you like a physical presence to talk to and you realize that when somebody dies there is no more physical presence. It's just the memories and that's a hard truth second term.

36:39 What does Tom look like since we're on the radio and can't see lean and athletic and he had sort of a I guess it's Hall narrow face me and most recently for most of the last 10 years that he was alive. He kept his hair like in a crew cut like military style cut and he had sort of greenish hazel eyes and when he smiled they really sparkled.

37:13 Any was clean-shaven for most of the recent years and had that a lot more white specks building up in the sides of his hair and when his beard to grow out it was much more salt and pepper.

37:26 He's a goofy looking guy. I guess that's the way it described him. Not classically handsome, but goofy looking.

37:33 What final thoughts any final thoughts that you want to close with?

37:44 You know I wanted to do this interview. Mostly because Tom would never accept recognition for all the things he did and maybe in a selfish way. I just wanted to brag about everything that he did do.

37:57 And

38:00 I missed home, but I'm just really.

38:04 Happy and lucky to have him in my life for 21 years.

38:17 Thanks, Karen. Good job.