DEA agent, Hughesville grad, dies in helicopter crash
The stepson of the chief medical officer of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania was one of the Drug Enforcement Administration agents killed Monday in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
Dr. Leo M. Hartz of Dallas on Tuesday confirmed his stepson, Special Agent Chad L. Michael, 30, was among 10 Americans who died in the crash in western Afghanistan.
“We’re still in a state of shock. We still don’t have answers about how the crash happened,” Hartz said in a telephone call from his home.
Hartz said Michael was deployed to Afghanistan about a month and a half ago on a special mission with a DEA Foreign-deployed Advisory and Support Team (FAST) to assist U.S. troops combat drug trafficking.
“He enjoyed his work. This is what he wanted to do. He wanted to make a difference in the world. He wanted to get drugs off the streets and prevent the disasters that happen in people’s lives because of drugs.” Hartz said.
Michael, two other DEA agents and seven U.S. servicemen died in the crash, which remains under investigation. The deaths were the DEA’s first fatalities in counter-narcotics operations during the eight-year Afghanistan war, the Associated Press reported.
A graduate of Hughesville High School in Lycoming County, Michael later earned a degree in criminology from St. Leo University in St. Leo, Fla.
Hartz said he and his wife, Debra, moved from Lycoming County to Dallas when he joined Blue Cross in 1996. He said Michael lived with them when college was off for the summer and during other breaks in the school year. One summer, he worked for Valley Pools & Spas in Hanover Township.
Michael was accepted into the DEA about five years ago after a several-year stint as a Hillsborough County, Fla., deputy sheriff. He most recently resided in Miami, Fla.
Funeral arrangements are being planned. Michael will be laid to rest in his hometown of Hughesville, Hartz said.
Michael’s helicopter crashed Monday in western Afghanistan while leaving the scene of a firefight with suspected Taliban drug traffickers, killing the 10 Americans aboard. Four other troops were killed Monday when two helicopters collided over southern Afghanistan, making it the deadliest day for U.S. forces in more than four years.
Other DEA colleagues killed with Michael were Forrest N. Leamon, 37, of Woodbridge, Va., and Michael E. Weston, 37, of Washington, D.C.
“As much pain as we’re feeling, there are other people in the same spot. There were 13 other servicemen killed. Some of his friends and co-workers were in the helicopter,” Hartz said.
Beside being chief medical officer, Hartz is a vice president of clinical advocacy at Blue Cross, which is headquartered in Wilkes-Barre. He’s also a board member of the Volunteers in Medicine in Wilkes-Barre and the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute in Scranton.
In addition to his parents, Michael leaves behind a brother, Eric Michael, 33; four stepbrothers; and one stepsister, along with other family.
“Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania and all of our employees were deeply saddened to hear the news of Chad Michael, son of Dr. Leo M. and Debbie Hartz, who was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan on Monday,” Blue Cross spokesman Anthony Matrisciano said in a prepared statement. “Chad was a dedicated Drug Enforcement Administration officer who had been deployed to Afghanistan to assist the U.S. military in stopping the flow of drugs from that country. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Hartz and his family during this difficult time.”