Monday, April 7, 2014

Some of life is frightening

I'm scared, I admit it.

My youngest son is starting a job on Swan Island in Portland tomorrow and he doesn't drive.
Logan and best friend Tom in bamboo
He bikes. I've already lost a child on a bike. And while I got away with thinking that it won't happen to me - to us - before it DID happen, I can't indulge in that luxury anymore. Now it's like I'm waiting for when it will happen AGAIN.

Because I can't trust anymore. My blinders are off. I see all the speeding, talking/texting, swerving, unsafe lane-changing, red light and stop sign running, lack of signaling, following too closely, cutting through parking lots, etc., that people do. All people: in cars, on bikes, walking. It's like every single person out there is thinking of just one person: him or her self and their convenience. I'm even guilty of it still myself sometimes, try as I do to be different.

Dustin, Logan and Colin 1992
Now my littlest boy is going to be doing more than just riding to the store or riding to school a mile or two here and there, now and then. He's going to be commuting at least 10 miles each way and coming home after dark. Through North Portland! Through tunnels, on roads with no bike lanes and with pot holes, and with cars that travel above the speed limit when even the speed limit is too high, IMHO.

Jenna and Logan October 2011
I went to the Bike Gallery today. I want to help prevent a second son from getting killed on his bike, I told the young man assisting me. (Yeah, I actually said that, with tears in my eyes and my voice shaking). What are the best front lights? Rear lights? What reflective gear? What tires to prevent flats? What horn or bell? What about mirrors; on the handle bars or on the helmet? What am I not thinking of? It was a not inexpensive hour.

Fortunately, Logan was not with me during my tearful visit to the store. I'm sure he would have felt mortified. (But hopefully touched on the inside). I know that he feels I am overly protective. Besides, what can I really do? His brother had lights, a mirror, a bell.

I feel entitled to being scared and protective, tearful and reactive. I can feel the tears behind my eyes and the tingle in my nose that signals they are near even now. If something happens to another one of my children I don't think I'll be able to survive it. At least not sanely.

I don't understand how I've survived the first one. The ONLY one. The ONLY ONE. THE ONLY ONE. (Breathe. Everything will be okay. Everything. will. be. okay).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Hit and run rips off the scabs

This morning I happened to drive a different way to work. Getting off SR 500 at Andresen was backed up and I soon saw why. Police had cordoned off the intersection of Andresen and Fourth Plain and were allowing traffic through just north and south bound.
Closer, I saw all the numbered markers and paint markings on the road. I know from experience that when there is a crash, they typically don't do this if there is not some type of suspected criminal element involved. "Just an 'accident'" (even if it involves death) does not warrant this level of attention to detail.
Immediately, with my heart sinking into my stomach which then shriveled into a hard, tight, nauseous feeling knot, I thought, "oh, no, not another hit and run." I pulled into the McDonald's parking lot just to the south of the intersection to calm down. But instead, I just felt more sick because at the back of the lot was a big Suburban surrounded by police and police tape.

A man in the parking lot told me there had been a hit and run. Another hit and run...which of course is what I expected to hear. And the white Suburban was the suspected vehicle involved.

It is hard to explain how hearing of more tragedy, and especially with witnessing some of the aftermath, can bring all of the devastating feelings up again front and center. Grief, rage, despair, helplessness. Rage. Helplessness. Helplessness. Hopelessness. Wanting to cry and wail and scream and break things. Wanting to sink to the ground in a puddle of tears. Feelings are weird, how they can make you feel like collapsing and raging at the same time.

But I am not only the mother of a young man taken out way ahead of his time, I am an activist. I am an active activist who is outraged and sickened by the continuing devastation on our roads and especially by the morally-corrupt people who can leave another human being dead and/or dying on the road alone.

So, I approached the KGW news crew on scene. I told them why I was crying and how I was not just your average onlooker at the scene of a crash. Naturally, I made my story interesting enough that I ended up being interviewed (should be on the Channel 8 at noon). Just coincidentally I had all my activist presentation materials in the car because I hadn't taken them out after going to the Portland Transportation Town Halls recently. So they took some pictures of these items, too (except the bike, I didn't take it out).

And I did of course talk about Medina Alert, the program out of Denver to quickly get information regarding hit-and-runs out to the public for help solving them.

I hope, I hope, I hope that somehow, some way we can stop these preventable tragedies from devastating more lives, that we can not let anyone callous enough to leave a person like roadkill get away with it if we know about it, that we can get consequences that fit the crime into place. I know that good people sometimes do bad things, like hitting someone while texting/talking or driving impaired or just not giving driving the serious attention it deserves, but a person is no longer a good person when they leave. They are cruel, inhumane, selfish, despicable, and disgusting. And apparently they are all around us and we don't even have a clue. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Everyone's a Pedestrian...even if you don't know it

I eat, sleep, and breathe traffic safety. Not only do I try to influence others to change their driving behaviors and habits to better protect everyone on the roads, but I really, really try hard to be the best that I can be, too. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way.

Two weeks ago I attended my second Portland Transportation Safety Town Hall. I set up my display - Dustin's bike and a presentation board of pictures, police reports, newspaper articles, etc. - for the local residents and other interested parties. There was lots of audience participation that night, including my pitch that if we all obey the traffic safety rules, show courtesy, and drive for the conditions, we would save lives and there would be more money and resources for other things (just think what the 15 or so officers involved in Dustin's fatal collision could have been doing instead).

As I packed up my display afterward, a woman approached. She wanted me to know that she nearly hit me with her car before the meeting started. She said, "You were jaywalking and are wearing dark clothing. I was not speeding. I checked to make sure; I wasn't speeding."

When I got to the meeting, I parallel parked across the street. I lifted Dustin's bike up onto my shoulder, checked to make sure no cars were coming, and started across the street. Then a car turned onto the road behind me and I hurried to get out of the way.

When this woman called me a jaywalker in dark clothing, I felt instant shame. And confusion, too. I was wearing dark clothing. I did cross the street in the middle of the block. I did not consciously think of myself as a pedestrian at the time because I simply walked from my car, crossed the street and went into the building. It didn't dawn on me to walk the 40 or 50 feet back to the intersection, cross there, then walk another 40/50 feet to get to where I ended up crossing directly from the car. It wasn't a matter of being lazy or making a decision that I didn't want to carry that heavy, awkward bike any farther than I had to. It just seemed like the natural thing to do. It was so natural, it was almost unconscious.

This was not a busy street. It was a side street with businesses that ended in a cul-de-sac. It was 6:30 p.m., dark, and the only traffic was going to the same place I was going. Because I was early, there wasn't even much of that.

Being called a jaywalker really jarred me. I felt like a failure, a fraud trying to get people to do what I couldn't even do myself. If I can't learn, how can I expect anyone else to? Plus...add in confusion. Initially I didn't even perceive that I'd done anything wrong. Then I didn't really think I had done anything everyone else wouldn't have done.

Should I have put on reflective or light clothing to walk such a short distance? Should I have gone 100 feet out of my way to cross a little traveled road at the intersection? I suppose I should have. But this means that if I want to visit my neighbor across the street, I should walk about 2 blocks to the intersection and cross there, then do the same on the way back, essentially walking 8 blocks just to get to my neighbor whose front door is 150 feet from mine.

I still haven't come to terms with this. And being as dedicated to traffic safety as I am - eating, sleeping, breathing it - this incident knocked me down. Literally. I spent the next day in bed crying off and on. Overreaction? Craziness?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Prisoners are people, too

About two months ago, a Dept. of Corrections Victim’s Services employee asked if I would speak at a Victim Impact Panel. This panel would feature four victims, about 20 prisoners, and several facilitators, and… it would be interactive. We would talk back and forth with the inmates. I immediately agreed. 

This morning I felt sick to my stomach, nervous, thinking the worst, not wanting to go. These criminals would probably think I was weak for forgiving the man who killed my son. They’d probably think that Dustin, a man who wanted equality for all people, who championed the underdog, was foolish. What was I thinking putting us both out there like that? The last thing I needed was for either of us or the rest of our family to be victimized yet again.

I arrived at Oregon State Correctional Institution at about 9:30. Right away a metal sculpture on the premises stripped away my fears: a large giraffe... with a Rudolph nose and antlers. (I collect giraffes and I took this as a good sign). 

The other three speakers and I were led through the gatehouse and into the prison. We were told that the participating inmates had been convicted of a wide range of crimes and that some would eventually be released from prison while others wouldn’t. We were separated into two groups: 2 victims, 9 offenders, and 3 facilitators sitting in a big circle. The men looked like anyone you’d meet in public: Steve, Jeff, Robin, Moe, Steve (another), Hawking (?), and four others whose names I can’t remember even though I tried (I’m taking notes next time!).

The other victim, Kay, went first since she was “experienced” at this type of panel. She talked about her and her children’s victimization at the hands of several abusive partners. She could have been talking about mine and my kids’ lives. My favorite part was when she told a story of how, after years of support groups and therapy and being on her own, she finally got the courage to fulfill a life-long dream: owning and riding a motorcycle all by herself. It was very uplifting and inspiring.

Then it was my turn. I talked a little about how I was raised, how my kids were raised, about Dustin specifically in more detail, and what happened to him. I told what’s happened since he died, including meeting the young man who killed him, and my public speaking. I told them how I am a little crazy sometimes. It was emotional and I got a little teary and had to take big breaths to be able to go on.

I wish I could have recorded what happened next or at least that I could remember better. Except for the topics and where we were at, it was like talking to caring friends over a meal. In a very candid manner, each man expressed their appreciation for our being there, for being brave enough and caring enough to make ourselves vulnerable to them. They shared who they were in their own small or big ways and how certain things we had shared impacted them. One man told how at the age of 13 when he was a gang wannabe, he and his brother killed the man who had been abusing their mother and how things had just gotten worse from there; he wishes he could talk to his mother but she won’t have anything to do with him.

Another young man said he has a 24 year old sister who keeps on drinking and driving, what would I say to her? She doesn’t understand the risks she is taking, he said, how much it would hurt others if something happened. About a half hour after I told him what I would say, another inmate addressed him directly and said he’d ask her if she’d put one bullet in a gun and then go out into public and just randomly shoot it.

Most wanted to know how Kay and I could be forgiving, how we had gotten to where we are, what we wanted now. Someone stated that after Ashawntae had asked me to help him get his driver’s license back, that that would have been the end of forgiveness for him. Another put Ashawntae’s asking for help with his driver’s license in a new light, he said he wanted to possibly give me another perspective: maybe it wasn’t as selfish as it sounded. One of the men wanted to know what I would do if Ashawntae didn’t want the same things for his life that I want for him. He said this to not only include if Ashawntae goes back to a life of crime, but just has different values and goals in general.

Family First Caregiver Appreciation Event
A couple men talked about how they wished they could talk to their victims, how they long for that opportunity to apologize and explain and try to help some of the pain. Several people talked about Family First, a program started by inmates to promote the importance of family and involvement as a way of getting and staying on track, among other things.

Much of what happened today is left out of this blog. I can’t adequately say what really happened in that room. Even the stories I told aren’t the whole stories and my re-telling of stories or questions lacks the emotion, the intent, the human quality of the person talking. It is impossible to explain why or how these men had me in tears, had me thinking that I was the one there to learn and to grow and to become more compassionate. 

They made me want to change even more than I already had. Their words and their demeanor and their expressions have me re-thinking many things I thought I knew about people. In a recent opinion piece in the local paper, I wrote that “people understand grief to the degree that they themselves have experienced it.” Today I had the wake-up call that that is true for everything

I’m not going to go so far as to say that I thought I knew what these men would be like, but I worried about what they would be like and not a single moment beforehand did I think of them as people like you and me. I never thought they could be insightful before listening to me. I had a lot to teach them, a lot to get them to think about, hopefully our story could help to convince them to change their ways. And they might think I’m weak and Dustin foolish (so why bother even talking to them?). That’s what I thought.

Who would have imagined that an intimate conversation with a bunch of convicted felons would leave me wondering how I can be more loving, more understanding, more compassionate? Who could have thought that these imprisoned men who have lost so many freedoms and have hurt people, taught me about life and people today?
I am able to appreciate this whenever I want!

Friday, December 13, 2013

A life-saving lesson learned at 17

This is a follow up to my last blog about the teenager who sat in on one of the Victim Impact Panels after he had a minor drunk driving crash. His parent shared this with me:

"I think I told you that an off duty officer stopped to help A. Part of A.'s punishment was that he had to write to the officer and tell him what he had learned from the experience. A. gave me the letter he wrote today and I thought I'd share it with you. A. didn't use any names but it was obvious that out of all the people he heard you and Dustin are the two that stuck in his mind. It is rather blunt, I hope that it does not hurt you to read how he worded it. I just think it's important that you realize the impact you and Dustin truly made on him. If you can leave this impression on a 17 year old boy imagine the impression you can make with an adult.

"Dear Officer,

"I'm really sorry for doing what I did. I've realized that driving intoxicated is very dangerous to myself and more importantly to others. I was lucky, I could of killed or injured myself or worse, I could of killed or injured someone else.

"Going to that class I saw a kid's mom up there talking about how their kid died by a drunk driver, she brought her son in a box and told her story about her son. When I saw the box and saw the lady's face I thought that could have been me that put someone's kid in a box.

"It could have been me that's causing someone's family so much pain.

"I'm sorry for what I did and I'm sorry to all of the mother's and families that had to go through that. All I can say is that I give you my word I'll never do a stupid and reckless thing like that again. I would never wanna be that person that took someone else's kid's life or anyone's. I don't think I could live with myself knowing I took someone else's life away. 

"I'd like to thank you for giving me a 2nd chance.



A. is an example to us all. We can be open to admitting that bad things happen because of poor decisions, that we ourselves have made poor decisions that could have ended very badly, and that we can make a firm decision to stop doing those things again.

I really believe that most of us engage in "it won't happen to me" and "it's too horrible to think about so I'm not going to" thinking. That allows us to remain in our protective little bubble of denial about how we may be endangering ourselves or others and keeps us from even considering that we might need to change what we do. We all do it. I did it. Sometimes I still catch myself doing stupid, dangerous stuff on the road. But not nearly as much...

The tens of thousands of deaths and millions of injuries annually due to inattentive and just plain selfish driving behaviors do not have to be the cost of the convenience of driving. But we talk ourselves into believing it because it's easier than changing. Make the change. Could you live with yourself knowing you took someone else's life away, like A. said?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I reached out and someone reached back

We are making a difference, Dustin and I. The following is part of an email I received after speaking at Oregon Impact's DUII Victim Impact Panel earlier this month. The writer attended with her teenage son after he was in a drunk driving incident which did not involve police; this was her action as a parent to help him learn the possible consequences of his actions.

"...A. was very quiet at the meeting. He really didn’t want to go and he did not express much while sitting there. When the meeting was over, we left and on our drive home A. began to open up and we discussed you and Dustin. He related to Dustin as he too rides a bike and he never wears a helmet. He just could not comprehend placing blame on someone that has died. It completely blew him away that the young man that killed your son could “have the balls” to even worry about getting his license back. A. was appalled at the length of time that people were getting for killing someone when they made the choice to drink and drive; he said it was not fair. I do not feel that either of us will ever get the picture of you standing on that podium with your son next to you out of our heads.
Thanks to Julia Flucht of OPB for the picture

"You mentioned that you were saddened that only a few people remembered his birthday and that you did not want him to be forgotten. What you do not realize is that he is still alive through you, every time you share his story, every time his story saves a life. You allowed us to meet your son through you; it was obvious that he would want you to share his story, obvious that he would want to save people from his own fate. I will remember Dustin every time I look into my son's eyes. I will give credit to Dustin every time my son makes the right decision to call and to not climb behind the wheel. As parents all we can do is hope our children make the right choices, choices that will keep them and others safe from harm. Unfortunately as we all know, teenagers do not always make the right choices. I think my son learned that Mom understands what being a teenager is like, he understand that he can call me. If Dustin made an impact on A. and he never gets behind the wheel drunk again, then Dustin has made a difference in his life. If A. sees someone and says 'you can’t drive, give me your keys,' Dustin has made a difference. 

KATU's coverage of Oregon Impact's MIP Victim Impact Panel (featuring me)

"I hope my email will bring you some peace that you will realize that Dustin may not be here in the flesh but that he is speaking through you. He is saving the lives of others and he will forever live on through you and everyone that his story touches."

I cried after reading this. Sometimes I struggle with confidence, wondering if anyone really hears me, if my telling of our story is compelling enough to capture anyone's attention. There are some other incredible real life "story tellers" at these panels, believe me. But this mother's words reassures me that my most fervent wish is fulfilled: Dustin's life is making a difference...even in death. He would be so happy!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion

An award-winning traffic safety activist back east told me that what probably helped him more than anything else was "shameless self-promotion." With that advice, I'm going to share in one place all that is going on.

October highlights (I also did my usual 4-5 victim impact panels):
20. Received a facebook message from a Philadelphia journalist wanting to help me to increase awareness around hit-and-run (he nearly died in a hit-and-run in 2009)
23. KATU coverage of my Oregon Impact Minor in Possession presentation.
23. KATU coverage of Faces of Fatalities featuring moms me, Mary Cooley, and Tammi Beers
26. Adopt-a-Highway clean up at milepost 2-3 on I-5.
28. Son Colin's birthday (I love you, Colin!)

1. Attended the (Oregon) Governor's Advisory Committee on DUII, was invited to also attend the Multi-Disciplinary Training Task Force which meets afterward.
4. Received email from Joseph Rose of oregonlive that he'd like to use some of my comments on a follow-up article regarding hit-and-run.
4. Presented at the Trauma Nurses Talk Tough DUII Victim Impact Panel.
5. Spoke with that award-winning activist mentioned above, Tim Hollister, who wrote the book Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving
7. Received an email from a victim's advocacy program coordinator who saw my presentation at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, asking if I'd present at her organization and collaborate with them on victim's rights and education.
8. Sent an early morning email to a couple of safety guys at Portland Bureau of Transportation and got a nearly immediate response about partnering with them and the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division.
8. Received an email from George Rede, OpEd of Forest Grove Leader and Hillsboro Argus asking me to consider writing a guest column on drunk driving.
11. Dustin's 31st Birthday and my second wedding anniversary (I love you, Glenn! I love you, Dustin!)
12. Recruited another mom of a hit-and-run victim to support our cause. Yay, Dawn!
12. Presented at Oregon Impact DUII Victim Impact Panel.
12. Heard that Oregon Liquor Control Commission is interested in doing a documentary on Dustin's story. 
13. Meeting with attorney Joshua Shulman's assistant Maureen to learn about my own website.Awesome.
14. Phone call scheduled with George Rede (see 8) to discuss my guest article including word count and deadline.
15. Attending the sentencing of the woman who hit and severely injured 20 year old Henry Schmidt. Henry's mom Kathi is also on board with our mission and Mike Cooley's mom will be there for support also.
16. My wonderful Dad's birthday.
17. My wonderful husband's birthday.
18. Presenting at the Clark County DUII Victim Impact Panel for the second time. 
20. Attending the Compassionate Friends, a support group for bereaved parents, grandparents, and siblings.
23. Presenting at High Risk Driver Class.

December high-lights so far (plus the normal five VIP classes):
6. Attending the Governor's Advisory Committee on DUII with Joan Miller, fellow DUII VIP presenter, hit-and-run DUII victim, traumatic brain injury survivor, co-founder of birrdsong (non-profit support and education for those with brain injury).
6. Attending the Multi-Disciplinary Training Task Force meeting.
7. Presenting at the Crime Victims and Law Enforcement Symposium at Western Oregon University
8. Attending the Worldwide Candlelighting Ceremony for deceased children of all ages.

There it is. My shameless self-promotion. I fully intend that this is really going to pay off some day soon!