Talking Fate, LaBella and The Zoo (3/6/02)

I became a bit reflective two days ago when I heard that radio DJ John LaBella had been killed in an auto accident in Fort Worth.

For those of you who, like me, grew up in the 1970s, LaBella was a living legend in DFW radio. He, along with John Rody and Mike Reiner, were the key ingredients of the morning show on radio station KZEW, "The Zoo".

The Zoo played hard rock: everything from Pink Floyd to Led Zeppelin. LaBella, Rody, and Reiner  were irreverent and racy. (They had a strange character called "Walter from Waco" if I recall). And it made me feel a bit like a rebel to  listen to the Zoo on my way to Bridgeport High School every morning. Something about it made all of us feel a bit more cool and hip.  (Even if I was wearing bell bottoms and a velour shirt).

I recall the really cool kids having a Zoo decal on their cars. (By the way, it was some strange looking elephant that I never quite understood).  I was never that cool.

At that time, LaBella was the equivalent of today's Kidd Kraddick, Terry Dorsey, or Ron Chapman.  He was big time.

That was years ago, however. I knew the Reiner had gone on to be a part of KTCK - "The Ticket" and that Rody had become somewhat of a computer guru in the DFW area. I had no idea what had become of LaBella until I learned of his death.

LaBella apparently had been working as a morning DJ at some soft rock station in Dallas called KMEO-FM (96.7). I had no idea the station existed, and I hadn't heard his voice in twenty years.

The accident which took LaBella's life was freakishly tragic. A flatbed trailer carrying a forklift was headed down I-30 and, recklessly, no one had taken the time to measure whether the forklift could safely be taken under every bridge along its planned journey.

The inevitable took place.

At one point the forklift struck one of the bridges the truck was traveling under causing the forklift to be crushed down onto the bed of the trailer. Oddly, the forklift compressed like an accordion. After it cleared the bridge, the forklift, quite literally, became uncompressed and launched itself off of the flatbed over into the oncoming lane of traffic. The forklift landed on LaBella who was heading home after finishing his radio show. He had called his wife after the show around 9:30 a.m. He was dead at around 11:00 a.m.

"Around" doesn't due this event justice.


LaBella is dead because his car was exactly at the wrong spot at a split second in time. Who knows exactly when that moment was. Say, 10:58:36.07 a.m.? A split second in time. If he had passed seconds later or seconds earlier, he would be alive today.  Whatever his schedule had been that morning, it had caused his vehicle to be on that exact spot of I-30 as a forklift was being propelled into the air.

After hearing of the accident, my mind began to think about time. How a moment's deviation from his morning's schedule would have saved his life.  Had he not stopped for a coke at 7-11. Had he not taken the time to return a phone call. Had he not left his office and then turned around to go back to retrieve his jacket.  Had he not had that conversation with a co-worker. Had the elevator taken 45 seconds instead of 30 seconds to open in front of him. Had he not hit four red lights and two green ones. Had he not needed to stop and get gas.

And what about the last song that he played before ending his radio shift? If that Celine Dion classic had been 3:35 long in instead of 3:40, he would be alive today. How choosing to instead play the nine minute anthem of American Pie would have made all the difference in the world.


Life is a random mixture of events with almost all of them unrelated to one another. I knew that before I heard of LaBella's death, but I'm not sure I appreciated the concept. Somehow, I don't feel quite as in control of my life right now. I'm sure LaBella believed he was in complete control of his.

He left behind a wife and seven year old daughter.

Barry Green served as District Attorney for Wise and Jack Counties from 1993 through 2000. He is now a partner in the Decatur law firm of Smith & Green, P.C.

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