Story of the week…

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July 3, 1998

Story of the week…

I read the headlines and shook my head out of frustration. The photo revealed a heaping smoldering pile of what was once a compact vehicle on the shoulder of the freeway. The smoldering heap contained the ashes and remains of 2 adult women, a small child and an infant. One of the adults was believed to be the mother of the children.

4 lives were taken in a fiery second, because of a mistake. A fatal mistake that could have been avoided.

The scene was a 5-lane freeway interchange that many have described as being confusing. The driver apparently had become confused and saw that she was in the wrong lane of the interchange. She did what we have all done at one time or another.

She gripped the wheel and thought in a split second, “I can make it”. And in that split second, the need to rush and take a chance overrode common sense and patience. The driver turned out of her lane “thinking she could make it”, but she pulled directly in the path of a big rig truck. The compact started from a dead stop. The truck was doing about 40mph. This is the aftermath.

Family members who will discover sometime that day, that they lost their loved ones unexpectedly. School children who will have one less friend to play with. No watching 2 young children growing up into the world.

The truck driver. His life will be changed forever. He tried to put the fire out with a little hand held fire extinguisher. That’s the same as trying to put the Oakland Hills fire out with a bucket of water. The bystanders who stopped to help. They will all remember this tragedy for the rest of their lives. I have seen it before and I tell you now, there is nothing more tragic or shocking as seeing people trapped in a burning car and knowing you can’t get them out.

I worked with a partner years ago that had responded to a vehicle crash where the driver was pinned in the car and the car had turned into a fireball. Nothing could be done to save the driver. Nothing! But my partner will never forget the man’s screams, begging my partner to shoot him.

A tragic loss indeed. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. My heart goes out to the truck driver who will carry guilt around for many years, even though he was not at fault and made a heroic rescue attempt.

My hope is that everyone, who reads this, will discuss this at home with his or her family. Every Action has a Reaction.

• If you are unfamiliar with a roadway, Don’t take chances! Even if it means taking the wrong turn off. You can always turn off the next exit down the road and get back to the way you wanted to go.

• This last second lane change is a roll of the dice. You’ll either make it, or you won’t. Why even take that chance? This is the very thing that prompts road rage. At this very interchange a few years back, one car cut off another while making a last second lane change. The second car pursued the first car, and when they both pulled off onto the shoulder and the drivers exited their vehicles to fight. Only one of the drivers had a gun. One of the drivers fled. The other one went to the hospital with the Paramedics. Over what I ask?

• Play it straight, don’t be late, and you’ll never have to rush to get somewhere. Look around the table right now if you read this with your family. If those beautiful kids you have mean something to you, you HAVE TO lay down the law regarding driving rules. If they are of driving age they have to know that any reckless driving will be dealt with parentally, by the police, or in a worst case scenerio, well the picture says it all.

If they are not of driving age, who do you think is supposed to set the example for them? Do you know how many tickets I write in a week to mothers and fathers who are caught on radar doing 45mph in a 25 mph residential zone? With their kids in the car or infants in restraint seats.
“I’m late taking the kids to soccer practice”.
“I’m late taking the kids to school”.
“I’m late taking the kids for pre-school”.

Now I have a car load of kids thinking I’m the bad guy cause I’m writing Mommy or Daddy a ticket. I’d love to know how many of those parents took the time to tell their kids that the Officer was making sure that they would all be safe, because Mommy or Daddy was driving way too fast and could have caused an accident.

Play it straight, and don’t be late. Don’t take unnecessary chances. Don’t roll the dice and you won’t become a headline. JL

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