GLENS FALLS — Rick Hazelton played a game of kickball Sunday with his friends — just like they used to do decades ago at the playground behind the Glens Falls fire Ridge Street fire station.
Hazelton kicked pretty good for a guy who was thought to be dead up until a few months ago, after his childhood friends tracked him down.
Hazelton, 57, grew up in Glens Falls and moved to New York City in the fall of 1986 to embark on a music career. His friends and family never heard from again and his sisters had him declared legally dead.
One of those friends is retired Fort Edward police officer Brian Pincheon, of Queensbury, who said he did not lose hope that he would find his friend.
Pincheon said Hazelton and his friends were inseparable during childhood.
“We all got together almost every single day in this playground,” Pincheon said.
Pincheon wanted to find out what happened to Hazelton.
“I started going through all the John Does and trying to find Rick. I went from state to state. You wouldn’t believe how many John Does there are.”
Pincheon decided to turn his attention to Nashville because of the music connection. It was there where he met up with a detective that joined in on the effort.
Another friend who helped in the search was Zachary Kaplan, who now lives in Albany, and has been friends with Hazelton since he was 5 years old. Kaplan said the friends did not know if Hazelton was dead or alive.
When the internet became available, Kaplan said he tried to search for him and found somebody with that name that was listed in Salem, Oregon and also had a listing of Glens Falls as a prior hometown.
You have free articles remaining.
They sent a police officer to follow up on the tip and Hazelton provided his address. Then, the friends sent him a letter with contact information and Kaplan got a phone call from Hazelton in August
“It was like talking to a ghost. I was in such shock,” Kaplan said.
Pincheon said Hazelton was so excited to come back and see his friends. He has been in town for a couple of weeks and gone out to dinner with the friends and stayed over at their houses.
Hazelton said he left 33 years ago because he “kind of felt that there was nothing here for me.”
After the music career in New York City did not pan out, he went down to Florida to stay with a relative. There, he saw an advertisement for cheap continental flights to anywhere in the United States, so he went to western Colorado and did some odd jobs like painting and roofing and raised a family. He later moved to Oregon, continuing to do odd jobs, but lost touch with his siblings and his childhood friends.
Two of Hazelton’s siblings were there — Tina Curran, of Warrensburg, and Aleasha Hlavaty of Hudson Falls. Curran said that their father died in a motorcycle accident in 1991. They had not heard from their brother and in order to settle the estate of their father, who did not have a will, they had to have Hazelton declared legally dead. Curran said that was the hardest day of her life.
Hazelton said it is nice to see his old friends and family and fitting to be at the playground.
“All of us are kind of misfits and this is where we used to come to live out our day,” he said.
Pincheon agreed that being back at his old stomping grounds brings back memories.
“Now it looks a lot smaller than it was back then. It’s so heartwarming to feel the love that we have here today for each other and how much we missed each other,” he said.
Kaplan said the friends thought they would never see Hazelton again.
“When you think things are completely hopeless, they’re not,” he said.