Massachusetts Daily Collegian

One year later, hole still looking to be filled after death of Amherst blogger Larry Kelley

'He was the finest man I knew'

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(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

By Devyn Giannetti, Editor in Chief

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On Feb. 17, 2017, Larry Kelley posted from his Twitter account for the last time at 8:59 a.m.: “UMass student walkout, worker strike downtown, Amherst Schools declare themselves a ‘sanctuary’. Take that @POTUS!” with a link to a post on his blog, “Only in the Republic of Amherst.”

 

 

 

 

 

At approximately 2:45 p.m. that same day, Kelley, 62, was killed in a head-on crash in Belchertown on Route 9. He was traveling east when he collided with a vehicle operated by an 18-year-old Belchertown male, and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Now, a year later, the man charged in the fatal crash that killed Kelley, Ryan Fellion, 19, has been ordered by District Court Judge Michael Mulcahy to turn over his cell phone password to prosecutors. With this password, police will finally be able to complete their investigation into the crash.

MassLive reported that according to the probable cause statement from the state police, Fellion’s phone was “actively assessing data and was being used while operating his motor vehicle.” The document also quotes one of the passengers in Fellion’s car, who said Fellion was texting while driving when he allegedly crossed the center lines and crashed into Kelley’s vehicle.

According to an email from the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, Fellion is due to return to Eastern Hampshire District Court on April 26, at which time his attorney said he expects a change of plea.

Kelley was notorious for his blog and accompanying Twitter page, @amherstac, where he tweeted over 11,000 times about breaking news on the University of Massachusetts campus, the town of Amherst and the surrounding communities, usually interjecting his own opinion.

Kelley was known for listening to his police scanner, tweeting about accidents and fires in the community. His social media accounts were well-known by student journalists and community members, who would go to him first to get the latest breaking news.

“I have actually spent more time in close proximity to Larry than with any other being in my life,” said Kirik Jenness, 57, best friend to Kelley. “He was the finest man I knew.”

Jenness and Kelley worked together at the Amherst Athletic Club for over 32 years.

“I first met him when I was 15 years old,” Jenness said. “I looked up to him because he was the best karate guy in New England. I went to UMass, and after I graduated and he opened up his karate studio, I asked if I could partner with him.”

“Larry wasn’t afraid to speak out about what was happening with issues around student behavior,” said Kristi Bodin, an attorney in Amherst. “He wasn’t necessarily out to make friends with everyone.”

Bodin has been practicing in Amherst since 1999, and grew to know Kelley because of his awareness and coverage of the town of Amherst. She said that Kelley frequently reached out to her looking for clarifications of various issues.

“I would let him know when he reported on something that wasn’t quite accurate because I have that legal background,” she said. “We weren’t social friends, but we knew each other in that way.”

Stephanie Murray, a senior journalism major, got to know Kelley well in the past few years. She met him as a sophomore in the fall of 2015 after being assigned to do a project for a journalism class about town versus gown relations. When working on the assignment, she thought of Kelley because he was always aware of what was going on in town.

“I got a lot of ‘no’s’ from other people I was trying to interview,” Murray said. “But he absolutely wanted to be interviewed. We met downtown at the Black Sheep, and it was funny that he asked me to meet him at the Black Sheep because he then referred to himself as a black sheep.”

From then on, Murray and Kelley became friends, as Murray would commonly see Kelley at community meetings and Amherst events.

“Once in the library Larry was there leaning on a bookshelf chatting with parents about something going on with the school board,” Murray said. “He called me over and introduced me, and people would then chat with me because I knew Larry. He was somebody who really welcomed me in and showed people I was someone they could trust.”

Both Bodin and Murray believe Kelley’s death has caused a hole to be left in the hyper-local coverage of Amherst and UMass.

“I think that he had a really hyper-local focus, especially in the town of Amherst,” Bodin said. “It’s not really being covered in the way it used to be. He was a real presence in the valley. I miss seeing his blogs and commentary about what’s going on, and no one’s really stepped in to fill that, and I don’t think anyone can.”

Murray is trying to change that. She realized soon after Kelley’s death that something would need to fill the space that was now open for this niche journalism. Hence, the creation of The Amherst Independent.

The Independent came to fruition last spring through the “Entrepreneurial Journalism” course taught by Professor B.J. Roche.

“We had to start a news startup,” Murray said. “I was in class when Larry died, and I realized that this is an actual thing we’re going to need now that he’s gone.”

In the fall, a small group of students talked to people in the community and asked them what they liked about Amherst and what they wished they saw more of in terms of coverage by the media. They used these responses to decide how they were going to cover the community to best fit the needs of its residents. The Amherst Independent is created and maintained through a class held this semester and covers education, town government, arts and features along with other basic coverage of Amherst.

“Larry was a big pioneer for multimedia journalism out here, and we’re trying to carry that through the Independent,” Murray said.

Bodin believes it would be very difficult to fill Kelley’s shoes in a comprehensive way.

“Larry was a third or fourth generation,” she said. “He had a depth of understanding of the community that’s hard to get. He always talked about his grandfather and great grandfather and how they lived in Amherst. If you didn’t know about his long history in Amherst, it would look like he was attacking the town all the time, but it was really because he had such deep roots and really wanted what was best for the community.”

Jenness believes the current court proceedings and coverage of how dangerous texting and driving can be would make Kelley proud.

“He really, really, really liked having a voice,” he said. “I know that that is living on after his death. The moves to increase penalties for people texting and driving, he would appreciate that publicity with a positive end coming out of this.”

For now, Kelley’s blog still stands, the last piece posted on the same day of his death. While the latest post is titled “Gimme Shelter,” those that knew him well knew Kelley found his home in his beloved town of Amherst.

“He lived and breathed Amherst,” Murray said. “He just knew everything and everyone, every inch of every street. His blog was such a true service to the community, and it stemmed from his love of Amherst.”

Devyn Giannetti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Devyn_Giannetti.

2 Comments

2 Responses to “One year later, hole still looking to be filled after death of Amherst blogger Larry Kelley”

  1. Kris on February 18th, 2018 12:26 pm

    Man, I miss Larry. I only met him once, at the Hampshire College flag rally in November 2016, but I had the opportunity to shake his hand and tell him how much I enjoyed his writing, and how his blogs helped me find sanity in a place like Amherst. I found his blog around a month after starting at UMass and I was hooked on it. A perfect combination of news, history, opinion, and photography. Years after I moved away from Amherst, I was still reading his blog every day. It’s a little selfish of me to note, but my daily routine is a little more bland without Larry around.

    Good luck with the Independent, I hope you can capture the same spirit that Larry had.

  2. Ed Cutting, EdD on February 19th, 2018 10:03 am

    My favorite Larry Kelly memory is Sept 10, 2001 and the US Flag debate.

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