By Josh Stipanovich
A South Side bar has stepped up to help the parents of 19-month-old Zahkaia Lee Moger who drowned last week in Milton Township.
Stephen Keener and Stephanie Moger’s proudest moment was the birth of their only child. The name Zahkaia is, in Moger’s mind, the female version of Zachariah and means “pure.”
“As soon as she got into the world, I knew that name fit her perfect,” Moger said. “She was our little gift from God, and I’m thankful for her.”
Despite a difficult week, Keener and Moger will try to heal at Club Twisted from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday, where several hundred people are expected to show support and share in the Zahkaia’s short life.
“I never in a million years expected [Sunday’s event] to escalate like this,” Keener said. “It just shows that there [are] good people out there and that they do care about other people.”
Zahkaia was very observant and always mimicked her parents.
“She always sees Steve working. She always wants to get involved,” Bill Braun, longtime friend of Keener, said.
Keener, who works as a mechanic seven days a week, was working on a friend’s vehicle the night of the accident, Braun said. Automotive work is his and Braun’s passion — and has been their entire lives, he added.
But Keener and Moger soon realized Zahkaia had wandered off and was nowhere to be found.
The child fell into a pond at their Milton Township residence, according to township police.
“We both freaked out. We both called 911,” Keener said. “I was torn up.”
The day before, Braun and his girlfriend were at Keener’s home with his girlfriend’s car. A window needed to be repaired; Keener said he could fix it — he just needed the parts.
Braun texted Keener the night of the accident to let him know he went to a junk yard, but it didn’t have the parts. There was no response for about 20 minutes, and that was unusual, Braun said. When Keener texted back, all it included was the words “call me.” That’s when Braun knew something was wrong.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my God,’ and I call him. [Keener] didn’t say nothing at first. He was just like, ‘Hello’ ... he’s like, ‘I got some bad news man. I got some really bad news ... Zahkaia’s dead.’”
Shock and confusion settled in for everyone.
“This is his baby girl. I could just hear the hurt in his voice,” Braun said.
Sunday’s benefit will help raise money for Keener and Moger. There will be food, a 50/50 raffle and an auction.
The menu includes home cooked dishes such as pasta, sausage and peppers, chicken and cheesy potatoes, and will be prepared by several of the bar’s employees.
It’s the least Club Twisted co-owner David Fusillo could do, he said. “I don’t even understand what [Stephen’s] going through because it’s never happened to me, but ... just to be there to let him know people do care,” Fusillo said.
Fusillo is Braun’s father, and has known Keener since he and Braun were 12 or 13, he said. They didn’t play sports; instead they worked on cars.
“That was their thing,” Fusillo said.
Over the years Fusillo has watched his son and Keener grow into men. He knows just how hard Keener works to support his family. Fusillo was once in the same boat.
“The kid works for what he has,” Fusillo said. “It’s not much, so this would be a good way to help him.”
Club Twisted employees created an event on its Facebook page, and as of Friday night, 104 people accepted its invite.
Fusillo said 100 percent of the proceeds are going back to Keener and Moger to cover funeral costs and other expenses.
Braun said he’s thankful his father has the space for the event and even happier all proceeds will be given back to the couple. A $10 cover will be collected at the door and a donation box will be set up inside.
“Anything will help. Any donations at all,” Braun said.