Scott Zeigler and his 6-year-old son, Scott Jr., spent the Monday after Christmas carefully assembling the boy's first model rocket, a present from Santa.
Then the two headed out to an open field behind their Fauquier County farmhouse, proudly lit the fuse and watched the rocket climb hundreds of feet into the air. Moments later, the rocket and its parachute floated down, landing on a power line.
Subsequent efforts by Zeigler to retrieve the toy as it dangled far overhead proved deadly, Fauquier County authorities said.
Sheriff's spokesman Fred Pfeiff said it was shortly after 3 p.m. when Zeigler, 41, pulled his tractor beneath the power line and climbed into a raised bucket attached to the machine. He was electrocuted when he used a 10-foot-long fishing pole to snag the rocket, coming fatally close to the high-voltage line in the process.
With his father lying unconscious on the ground, Scott Jr. ran to the house for help, and his 12-year-old sister, Kiah, called 911 but rescue workers were unable to revive Zeigler, Pfeiff said. He said investigators are looking into exactly how the electrocution occurred.
Yesterday, Zeigler's family gathered at the home he shared with his wife and two children to mourn him. His mother, Gloria Zeigler-Childs, remembered that building model rockets had been one of her son's favorite childhood pastimes--an early sign of the fascination with flight that led him to a career as a pilot. Scott Jr. loves tinkering with models, and the two were thrilled to put the rocket together, she said. "He had always had rockets as a kid," Zeigler-Childs said. "I was always outside watching them go off."
"Scott loved flying," she said, explaining that her son worked for Exxon, shuttling executives around the world. "All he thought about was planes since he was very, very little."
Zeigler's two brothers, Glenn and Brian, described a New Jersey childhood of building not only rockets, but race cars together. Occasionally, Scott even tried flying himself--"swinging off the porch roof," remembered his sister Gail Urban.
"He was always adventurous no matter what it was," she recalled.
"Nothing was impossible for us," Glenn Ziegler said.
Family members said Scott Zeigler loved scuba diving, sailing and rock climbing.
"Scott probably lived more in his half-a-lifetime than most people do in their entire lives," Glenn Zeigler said.
Glenn Zeigler said his brother was familiar with electrical wiring and was always careful working near electricity. "He respected it," Glenn Zeigler said. "We still don't know exactly what happened."
Scott Zeigler and his wife, Leslie, had moved to their rural Fauquier home from New York--where Zeigler was a volunteer firefighter--about two years ago, family members said. They loved the area, raising sheep and chickens on their farm. But Ziegler's job was to take them to Texas next month.
Yesterday afternoon, Zeigler-Childs carried a book on herbs that was a Christmas gift from her son. Inside the front cover is a carefully printed inscription.
"You showed me the stars and all their wonder," Zeigler wrote to his mother. "You taught me to look at the world with curiosity and always see the magnificence of it."
Again and again, Zeigler-Childs read her son's words. "It's almost as if he were saying goodbye," she said.