The death of Craig Westberg last week was a tragedy for his family and a loss to the community. The best that can be said of it is that he died with his loving family at his side. We all hope for such solace at the end.
Westberg died Wednesday at the age of 64, after a mountain bike accident last weekend in Arizona. A 38-year resident of the area, he was familiar to local residents as district attorney for the 6th Judicial District. He also had been a prosecutor for the office before that and district attorney once before, from 1977 to 1981. His current term was to expire Tuesday, and he had chosen not to run for re-election.
Westberg's name appeared in the Herald many times. In recent months that often had to do with his own problems, but over the years, references to him were far more likely to be in regard to his prosecution of a major criminal case.
And in that he was in his element. Last year, Westberg prosecuted three men for a gruesome sexual assault that resulted in the death of a young woman. All three were convicted and effectively sentenced to life in prison.
In another difficult instance, Westberg prosecuted a defendant thought to have murdered and incinerated his victim. The case had been turned down by prosecutors as too hard to prove, but Westberg got a conviction and the killer is serving a life sentence.
Those were brutal crimes that warranted a firm hand. We are all better off with violent criminals off our streets and out of our town.
Whether that tough approach was appropriate for defendants facing lesser charges is another question, however, especially for first-time offenders or nonviolent lawbreakers who might benefit more from education or intervention than from incarceration.
On that basis, Westberg was legitimately criticized. It also was the reason he was sometimes personally attacked when his own shortcomings let him down.
But Westberg's problems also demonstrated his strength. Earlier in his life, he battled alcohol, but at his death, he had been sober for decades. And in his recovery he rebuilt his career, his avocations and his family life.
Westberg was a determined, strong-willed and intelligent man in a job that is inherently controversial. It is only natural that he would have detractors and engender philosophical differences. But in the end, what remains is that Craig Westberg served the 6th Judicial District well, and left his community safer for it.