Friday, June 23, 2006

Unpublish Day

Into every writer's life must come the occasional speed bump. Mine came today, when I opened up the paper to find the column that I had written wasn't there. In its place was a placeholder ad. Here's what happened:

Yesterday, I read the paper when I first woke up. Whenever it's a deadline day for my column, I start my day with a survey of local, regional, national and international news. I look for stories that jump out at me, whose topical nature might make a strong column.

I came across the sad story of a 27-year-old woman who had been hit and killed by a car on a road I ride every morning and evening on my commute. In fact, I had been right there earlier in the day. Scary can happen to anyone.

The story said the police were looking for a small purple vehicle. Uh oh, I thought: a hit-and-run. I crafted a piece about hit-and-run drivers. I mixed in equal parts anger and fear. I think it was good writing.

I submitted the piece on my lunch break, then went back to my all-day meeting. I got home after 7 p.m. and logged on to the PC. To my horror, I saw an updated, web-posted article that said the original story was wrong. The driver had not fled. My column was now instantly obsolete and outright inaccurate...based on errant reporting.

I called every number I could remember, but couldn't reach anyone (it was nighttime.) I (wrongly) assumed that someone would catch it and call me, and the fact that the phone hadn't rung and my inbox had no message meant that someone was on top of it.

In the overall scheme of things, this isn't a major issue. It happens. And when it does, my skin gets a little thicker and I learn still more lessons about how far I can and cannot go when I submit pieces for publication. Next time, I won't be afraid to call folks at home.

In the interim, wrong reporting or not, and my journalistic whining notwithstanding, someone died because a motorist took a curve way too fast, jumped the curb and ran her down as she rode on a bike path. Even if the circumstances were initially not clear, the end result was just as tragic. And although my initial cut at an Ink Blog entry didn't make the papers, I've included it here anyway, because writing is writing, and I never want any of my words to go to waste. There's a lesson in here regardless.

Here's my unpublished piece:
Yesterday, I rode my bicycle to work scared. As I passed the spot on Richmond Street where a 27-year-old woman was struck and killed by a motorist on Wednesday evening, I shuddered to think it could have been me.

I cycle that road daily, sharing a sliver of asphalt with often-impatient drivers. I’ve been cut off, brushed back, and yelled at by drivers who refuse to acknowledge that cyclists have every right to ride in peace.

Today, the victim’s family mourns an incomprehensible loss while the driver of the small purple vehicle allegedly involved in the accident roams free. Like all hit-and-run drivers, this coward didn’t have the courage to stay at the scene to help the victim or speak with police. The driver just left her there.

Whoever you are, I hope the guilt weighs on you so heavily that you feel compelled to turn yourself in. And if the police find you first, I pray they throw the book at you so folks like me can ride without fear.

Your turn: What's an appropriate punishment for someone who kills someone by clearly misreading the weather, the road, and the capabilities of his/her car and his/her driving abilities?


Maggie said...

Regardless, I've always luv the way you get clear to the point.
I've been involved in a hit and run accident, where I had to pay a large deductible.
I believe they should be punish and pay damages to the person and family.
Have a great weekend

Karen said...

"appropriate punishment"...

...that's very difficult, i'd havta think on it for awhile.

in the meantime, thanks for stoppin' by.

Prego said...

Wow. That's so sad.

I remember my first year teaching I thought it'd be environmentally responsible for me to ride a bike for the two miles to work. The third day, somebody approaching a red light thought it'd be entertaining to 'crowd the plate' at the crosswalk as I rode by. I think that was the last bike ride I took.

An accident like that, as tragic as it is, is the result of sheer stupidity. People forget physics when they're behind the wheel and completely disregard the elements and their surroundings. I can't think of more punishment than having to live with the guilt of making such an egregious error. Community service, I suppose is the catch-all. I think it should be augmented. If it's a woman, make her watch an entire season of bass fishing on TSN. If it's a man? The Bette Midler Video Collection.

(By the way, I watched that whole Car/Edm series. I'd have given my left skate to watch Ryan Smyth and Chris Pronger hoist the Stashu Cup)


surcie said...

If it truly was accidental, I think that having to live with the guilt of it would be punishment enough. I can't imagine how the driver could get through a day without thinking of that woman.

vanx said...

I don't know. My daughter is driving now, and it's one of the hardest things I've ever had to deal with--people make mistakes.

As for hit and run drivers, I can't imagine what such people are thinking, and the appropriate punishiment is the full stretch--whatever that is.

kenju said...

Carmi, I think they should have to stand trial and be judged there. If sheer negligence cause it, the punishment could be different than if willfulness was the cause.

Michele sent me.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I don't know Carmi. That is a gard question to answer...I will have to think about that one...And Michele sent me tonight, my dear...

OldMotherHubbardSharesAll said...

First - accidents happen - we all miss judge, over correct ..... we all will probably be involved in some accident that was our fault.

Here is where HUMAN beings differ - I would hope that if it was my daughter/sister/friend/self on the bike that the driver would respect me enough (and their selves) to stay and own up to their mistake. When they don't. I believe that they should pay by having to lecture every driver's ed class that they can and share with them HOW they killed someone and tried to walk away - like nothing happened.

I've always thought it ironic that I taught my children not to play with fire and knives - but when they turned 15 I gladly handed them the most deadliest of weapons and crawled into the other side of the car - trusting my life to the kid I had grounded until they were 40 just the week before!

WendyWings said...

Michele sent me, it is hard when an accident is just that an accident.
Appropriate punishment for a hit and run though would be jail time because the "run" part needs to be dealt with harshly in my opinion.

Dean said...

It's hard to say what the punishment should be. I think, personally, that hit-and-run penalties are probably sufficient. People are doing 4, 5, 6 years for that.

I think there's a difference between an 'accident' and 'negligence'. Driving too fast for road conditions is almost always negligence. Like people who have accidents when it rains: what, you've never driven in rain before? It is the driver's responsibility to take road conditions into account.

I'd like to see less enforcement of speed as an absolute limit: what good does it do anybody to have somebody out at the end of a long straight on a clear summer day handing out tickets? There should be more people ticketed for tailgating and driving through traffic at 40kmh more than everyone else. THOSE things are dangerous, not driving 130 in a 110 zone.

Actually, I'd like it if some of the cops who sit on those long straights would come and nail some of the people who drive through the playground zone here at 70-80 kmh.

Whew, rant over.

Juliness said...

It is really difficult to determine "fault" in vehicluar crashes. (We learned in law enforcement never to call them accidents, because it was always somebody's fault...there just aren't that many Acts of God these days.) There are usually a ton of mitigating circumstances as you mentioned. That said, if the crash was caused by some sort of inattention or recklessness on the driver's part then that driver should absolutely pay the consequences.

BTW, I'll be coming back more often. I dig your style!

Jennifer said...

Carmi, I had to come see you from Lazy Daisy's blog...My nickname in school was "Big Bird" because I was a big girl for my age (6 feet tall at 13 years old). But, I have to take issue...It IS easy being green...have you checked out my blog lately????

craziequeen said...

punishment is a toughie....

obviously if they have killed through neglect then it is murder (sorry, manslaughter these days!).

If it's ignorance then re-education....

mind you, I'd like to shoot some of those drivers who think they can be seen in fog without fog lights!

Here via Michele - last call before I begin dinner....

srp said...

Here from Michele.

There should be a big difference between an accident from mechanical failure and that of sheer negligence. And a major difference between someone who stayed at the scene trying to help and someone who flees.

I agree that the guilt of causing someones death is something the person will never get over.

Punishment? So many things to take into consideration.

And Carmi, it is nice to see a journalist who cares about the truth of their material. You are a rare find.

Christy said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! :) I think it depends on if it's a hit and run or if the person stops.

God allows things to happen at times that make no sense to me and although I can't say I don't question him, I trust him that all things happen for his glory and I just have to hold onto that.

Blond Girl said...

Hey Carmi. It's been awhile since I've stopped by and, while Michele didn't send me, she did remind me that I should come by on my own.

As for the driver: Suitable punishment is hard to determine. If there are drugs, alcohol or stupidity involved, throw the book at them. But what about the times when bikers or pedestrians dart in front of a vehicle thinking "I can just make it" and expecting they'll get through? I live in a large city and it does happen. If the driver didn't see the biker and stopped, called 9-1-1 and waited for the cops then there may be room and the need for more mercy.

It's really quite subjective, you know?

ChaCha said...

All I know is I am glad you it wasn't you

margalit said...

When I was in my twenties, my best friend Donna was killed by a drunk driver whils she was riding her bike. The driver hit and ran, but was found within a couple of days. He got 3 years for vehicular homicide. Three years for snuffing out the life of my friend, a talented artist and a really cool person. Three frigging years. And I don't even think he had to serve all of it.

And people call our court system the greatest in the world. I don't think so.

Here via Michele

keda said...

i'm with prego i guess..

though it really does drive me nuts that car drivers think they own the bloody ground we pedestrians and bikers and cyclists also use.
back via michele again*

utenzi said...

Michele sent me, Carmi.

This is the most difficult part of the law to decide on. How to judge people who intend to do harm is easy. Throw the book at them! But to judge people who didn't intend to do any harm, now that's very difficult. It can only be done on a case-by-case basis and few people will be happy with the results.

I used to use a bicycle for all my transportation until I moved to Atlanta where doing so would be a death sentence. I've been involved in 3 accidents while on a bike and the worst one nearly did-in my left elbow and knocked out quite a few teeth. The elbow healed in 6 months but oddly enough the teeth never grew back. Damn cars!

barbie2be said...

i think if it is clearly an accident and the person stays at the scene then the guilt that they have to live with for the rest of their lives is going to weigh heavily on them.

if they leave the scene however, i think they should have the book thrown at them.