Forgive, but with consequences

It would be horrible to kill your best friend. I get that. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve learned your lesson and should get off with just “living with having killed someone” as your only consequence, even if your best friend’s own mother doesn’t want you to suffer, too.

According to news reports, 18 year olds Yuriy Tasmaly and Mikhail Golovach took a friend’s car without permission to go on a “joy ride” after a night of drinking. Yuriy lost control of the vehicle and slid into a tree. Emergency personnel responding to reports of a crash found Mikhail dead in the car and the driver missing. Yuriy was eventually found about two miles away and taken to the hospital with his own minor injuries and to “sober up.” He was then arrested. Bail is set at $200,000.

Numerous friends and family have shown support for him, including Mikhails’ own girlfriend and mother. Comments friends have made are “now we all have Yurka’s back because we can’t stand the thought of losing him, too,” “he would never ditch his friend. If I was in shock I would probably do the same thing,” and “most of the charges are without basis.”

Most of the charges are without basis.” Vehicular homicide, hit-and-run, driving while suspended, minor in possession of alcohol, theft of a motor vehicle… An intoxicated 18 year old, using a car he didn’t have permission to use (whose owner reported it stolen), drove while his license was suspended (due to previous instances of recklessness and drunkenness), and killed another person then left the scene. No basis? Even if given the benefit of the doubt on the hit-and-run (some say he left to get help), there is certainly basis.

I’m sorry for both families. I know that the pain of losing a loved one forever and of losing another to prison is devastating, but there must be severe consequences for someone who had already had opportunities to stop and learn. Sometimes prison is the help some people need to learn they don’t have the right to risk other people’s lives for their own selfish desires. It’s too bad that not only the person responsible pays, so do friends and family who love him. And it’s also difficult, perhaps, for friends and family to understand that it’s not enough for them to think “he’s learned his lesson, don’t punish him more,” when he endangered everyone on the road, not just the person who knew he’d been drinking and chose to get in the car with him anyway. Everybody has a stake in this, not just family.

My son was killed by a drunk 18 year old who left the scene. I now speak at numerous victim impact panels (maybe Yuriy attended one I spoke at last year), and I have also forgiven the person who killed Dustin. I’ve even met with him in prison. But Ashawntae, too, had already been in trouble: a previous property damage hit-and-run, possession of ecstasy, etc. Obviously he had learned nothing, because he was still on probation when he killed Dustin. I forgive him, I’m supporting him, but he needs harsher consequences than just living with the knowledge he took another young man’s life.

It is very sad what some people do to other people and it is very sad they often have to learn the hard way. Yuriy is lucky. He has a second chance… It will be hard but he can make a better future for himself. And a safer one for everyone else on the road with him.

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Sex, drugs, and traffic safety. Part 1.

Logan, practicing driving

Logan, practicing driving

Sex, drugs and traffic safety… what we need to be talking to our teens about.

Sex, yeah, we know that. Drugs? Obviously. And of course we talk to our teenagers about driving safely. Of course we do! Maybe you’re wondering what I’m talking about since most parents already (think they) do this.

I know I was a responsible parent to my teen drivers, paying for them to attend Driver’s Education classes, taking them out on the road for practice, practice, practice, even though anyone who has done this knows it is not fun. It is not fun! And I have never had a moving violation of any type so I was role-modeling good driving, right? Good driver, good parent, doing the right things as far as I knew.

But back to talking about traffic safety. I realize now that I really didn’t do that, at least not more than just superficially. And that is because I didn’t “get it.” I didn’t understand then – because I didn’t think about it – that driving is the most dangerous thing we do every day. Now I “get it:” Driving is not only the most dangerous thing we do every day, but it is a dangerous thing we do every day. Does that distinction make sense?

Today, I am going to focus on why it is important to talk about – and insist on the use of – seat belts. I didn’t know these facts and statistics from 2009 until today:

*61% of 16-20 year olds killed in crashes were not wearing their seat belts. 61%!
*Males are much more likely to not wear seat belts than females.
*Nearly twice as many males were killed as females (this is not differentiated by seat belt use).
*Seat belt use reduces risk of fatal injury by 45% and of moderate-to-critical injury by 50% for front seat car passengers, while it reduces fatal injury by 60% and moderate-to-critical injury by 65% for truck passengers.
*Only 1% of seat belt users were totally ejected from a vehicle, which is one of the most injurious circumstances that can happen in a crash.
*Of those who were totally ejected from a vehicle, 31% were not wearing restraints.
*Of those ejected totally from a vehicle, 77% were killed.
*Drivers under the influence of intoxicants are much more likely not to wear seat belts.

This link has further information, including links to even more information: http://www.underyourinfluence.org/seat-belts-save

I can remember back in the 70s being the first person in my family to consistently wear my safety belt; I don’t even know why, since the others weren’t. With my own kids, we always wore our seat belts without fail. Now I know why.

Buckle up. It saves lives. And… it is easier to talk about to our teenagers than sex.

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Hit-and-Run… and Repeat…

Once hit-and-run rips your life apart, you develop a radar to notice others. And unlike people not affected directly by hit-and-run, you’re not able to hear about it and then let it go at the next commercial break or news article.

Miky Vu and family The uncle of 18 year old Michael Vu, who was killed less than 2 weeks before Dustin, told me that when he saw the news coverage of Dustin’s death, he screamed and pounded his head on the wall. He apparently also felt that sense of helplessness, of hopelessness, knowing that the deaths continue and we can’t stop them. It’s a terrible burden on top of an already devastating loss.

Ponder this:

One, two, three… people were killed in hit-and-run crashes in the last two weeks in the greater Portland area. On Tuesday an 18 year old man struck a tree near Hockinson and walked away from the scene, leaving his 18 year old best friend dead in the car. The driver was found a few miles from the scene. <a href=”http://www.columbian.com/news/2013/mar/06/teen-accused-hockinson-vehicular-homicide-appears-/

Then a day or so later in Portland, an SUV sped through a stop sign in a residential area and hit a Toyota, killing a 90 year old mother and her 55 year old son; three people fled and one remained in the SUV, injured. A suspect is in custody, captured near the scene. http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2013/03/police_identify_mother_and_son.html

In California three weeks ago a 36 year old bicyclist was dragged 600 feet under a van onto the freeway. Amazingly, he is still alive. This driver is still unknown. http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/los_angeles&id=9007373

In New York recently a young married couple in a limousine was killed and their son, delivered alive by caesarian section, died the next day. The driver turned himself in. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/hit-and-run-driver-killed-hasidic-family-changed-life-mom-article-1.1288104

An L.A. Weekly article from 12/6/12 stated that 48% of traffic crashes in L.A. and 11% nationwide are hit-and-runs. Appalling! http://www.laweekly.com/2012-12-06/news/los-angeles-hit-and-run-epidemic-4000-dead-injured/

I hate to say I understand why the vast majority of people are not paying attention to this epidemic of hit-and-run. I understand why people are blind to the fact that driving is the most dangerous thing you do every day, just in general. Before my son was killed, I was exactly the same, my head buried firmly in the sand of ignorance and complacency. It wasn’t until my own child was struck at 50+ miles per hour while riding his bike and his skull cracked off his spine that I learned driving is the leading cause of death of people 3-33. And then for him to be left on the road like he was no more important than a dead possum… or garbage…

Awareness is the first step toward change, right? This blog and my speaking are my first small steps to increase awareness and bring attention to this problem. I know there are others out there doing the same on a grander scale, like I hope to eventually.

Because no parent should outlive their child. No one should lose anyone they love when it is so preventable.

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Success against the odds

Despite a huge amount of personal frustration Monday morning, I achieved my goal of testifying in front of the House Judiciary Committee in Salem regarding increased penalties for injury hit-and-runs. HB 2542 passed unanimously and will now go to the Senate. Why would they not approve a 3 year license revocation for serious injury? Right now it is one year regardless of severity. Unbelievable.

So I was anxiously waiting this speaking opportunity which came up for me thanks to attorney Joshua Shulman who told the sponsor of the bill that I would be willing to testify. In preparation I bought new clothes. I had my nails done. I rehearsed what I was going to say over and over, picturing myself confident and effective. I would submit written testimony beforehand. I would take lots of time with my hair and make-up. I would get to the Capitol early.

What actually happened? On Sunday I twisted my back taking Dustin’s bike out of the car. It didn’t really hurt that bad at first. But it quickly got worse. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t bend or sit or lay. It hurt to stand and my right leg kept collapsing. At the first possible moment I called for a doctor’s appointment. Of course she was running late. I was told I probably wouldn’t hack sitting in the car for an hour. But I was determined. I had no time to do my hair; I didn’t even get to shower! I had no written testimony. I was five minutes late and almost wasn’t let in. Plus… I was feeling pretty good after having taken a muscle relaxer and oxycodone. I was not in my best form, that’s for sure. Fortunately, between me and the others testifying – Josh Shulman (attorney), Steph Routh (pedestrian safety advocate), and Tammi Beers (mother of hit-and-run fatality victim Harley Rocher) – we achieved what we set out to do.

I love what we can do when we work together!

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