Saturday, January 26, 2013

Despair and Disbelief: Same Words, Different Voices

 "Different day, same shit." You've heard this saying. I find it sickening that it applies to fatal hit-and-run crashes, of which there was another last week. Actually, the saying is applicable to all crashes, but here I'm focusing on those of us affected by hit-and-run tragedies. Below, I've documented the stories of real people and the sentiments of their loved ones, starting with the most recently killed: Same words, different voices.

Harley Rocher, 18
1/15/13: pedestrian, found dead on the side of a residential street. 

"They have no idea who they took from this earth," said Harley's mother, Tammi Beers, to the media.  "He was wise beyond his years and so responsible. I hope they can find whoever did this. I want them to understand that Harley was the kind of person who would do the right thing. He was the kind of person who would take responsibility. And he died alone. I just want to know what happened. I don’t understand how somebody could live with themself.” Outcome: Killer is still at large, vehicle was “teal” colored.

Tatyana Tupikova, 22

5/9/12: pedestrian, found 5/11/12 in a ditch along State Route 503; she’d been missing 2 days. 

“Today we are here to ask for the public’s help,” her sister Olga told reporters. “Please help us find out what happened that night… Tatyana was always cheerful, outgoing and full of life… and was a caring person, often putting others before herself and always staying involved in family activities.” Outcome: Killer is still at large, no details known.

Nancy Schoeffler, 63
3/21/12: pedestrian, found dead on Burnside.

“My mother was an amazing woman with a heart of gold,” Solara Schoeffler told the media. “After spending her whole life taking care of others, her life was cut short by two women who left her in the street to die, and went to great lengths to cover it up.” Outcome: Driver arrested 2 months later due to tips. Ashley Chavez, 23, pleaded guilty to Manslaughter 2, DUII, Felony Hit-and-Run. Sentence: 75 months; 5 others received 10-60 days for their part in helping to cover up the crime. 

Dustin Finney, 28
8/12/11: killed in a bike lane in view of witnesses, including another bicyclist who was also struck. 

“When Dustin decided to do something… nothing could stop him,” I told  Ashawntae Rosemon, 18, in my Victim Impact Statement. “Well, nothing stopped him until you struck him from behind and threw him 175 feet to die and then left him like a piece of garbage on the dirty pavement of Division Street. You stopped this young man whom friends described as ‘on fire,’ ‘tireless,’ ‘a warrior,’ ‘a leader.’ ... You stopped him cold.” Outcome: Driver arrested an hour later after ditching the car. Pleaded guilty to Criminally Negligent Homicide, Felony Hit-and-Run, DUII, and Vehicular Assault of a Bicyclist (for the injured second bicyclist). Sentence: 60 months.

Michael Vu, 18

7/31/11: bicyclist, found in the bike lane along a residential road.

“You left Miky to die at the side of the road that night and went home to your bed," said uncle Garland Smith, addressing Artyom Pavlenko during court. "We will miss Miky every day for the rest of our lives. He was such a joy. Like a thief in the night, you robbed us of Miky's presence."  Outcome: Driver turned himself in next day and eventually pleaded guilty to Failure to Perform  the Duties of a Driver. Sentence: 18 months.

Thomas Mossman, 67

3/31/11: bicyclist, found in a ditch on a country road on 3/22.

“It’s hard to comprehend. I don’t think this person is actually a person. I mean, I don’t understand how anyone can leave someone on the road to die. I don’t understand it.” Statement of daughter Marcy Parfitt to the media. Thomas was “someone who paid attention to detail, was a leader and who genuinely wanted to help others.” Outcome: 26 year old Jacob Croall turned himself in 2 ½ weeks after the crash, was charged with Failure to Perform the Duties of a Driver and Tampering with Evidence. Sentence: unknown.

Gordon Patterson, 50

9/15/09: killed in broad daylight while riding in a bike lane.

“Hi, I’m Carrie Patterson, Gordon Patterson’s wife. We were married 23 years. But a distraction on a text message caused his death.” Carrie Patterson addresses Antonio Cellestine, 18, (and one of her husband’s students) during the sentencing. “He impacted thousands with his life. And we can only imagine how many more it would have been if he was still here.”  Outcome: Antonio was arrested the day after the crash due to witness tips and eventually pleaded guilty to Vehicular Homicide and Felony Hit-and-Run. Sentence: 5 years. 

These wonderful people lived in just our tiny corner of the world, but these kinds of tragedies are happening everywhere, everyday.Different day, same shit.

Award-worthy Dustin!

Proud Mom! Dustin Finney Memorial facebook friends have already been notified that Dustin was so respected and liked that his memory is being commemorated by the Northwest Free-Thought Alliance. They now have the Dustin Finney Memorial Award, an award of $500 toward books to upper level and graduate Environmental Science students. 2013 is the first year for this and I’ve been told that rather than increase the amount of the award, the goal in future years is to increase the number of recipients. 

I feel very honored and proud to be invited to the conference being held in Portland in April where the first award will be presented. My understanding is that I will even be able to address the audience and share a little about Dustin. That is awesome. I love to talk about Dustin! 

Dustin and his brother Logan attended the conference in 2011 and had a great time. I remember Dustin being very excited because of the people he met and how he felt that he was starting to really become involved in what he cared about. Below is a blog one of the attendees wrote about his meeting with Dustin and how he felt upon hearing of his death.

…If only Dustin could know how loved and cared about he was/is…

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Feeling Guilty for Loving It

Life has never felt more purposeful. Yes, it was very purposeful when I was raising four kids entirely by myself, with either actual hindrance or no help at all from the two fathers. But raising children was/is a responsibility, an obligation with little choice. Great reward, though! Reward that I don’t believe a non-parent could fathom. And a reason for living second to none… I know, because in the early ‘90s, I thought a lot about dying.

Today though, nowadays, I’m busier for me, and the reward is from my effort and my love and my dedication… and overcoming and conquering my fear more and more each day. The guilt, mentioned in the title, is from wondering if it’s wrong of me to so enjoy what I’m doing now and know that I wouldn’t be doing it if Dustin hadn’t been killed.

This morning, I attended my first ever town hall meeting. I let myself feel intimidated and thus didn’t speak, but I realized afterward I have enough confidence to speak next time – now that I know what to expect – and I learned I want a next time. It was very interesting, and exciting to hear people speak up, even when I didn’t agree with them. There are a lot of ideas about a lot of things out there that I’d never come close to thinking before. I bet I have some ideas some people have never thought of before, even me!

This afternoon, I presented our story at today’s High Risk Driver Class, put on by Trauma Nurses Talk Tough. With the help of a slide show, I share who Dustin was and what he meant to me and others;
11/11/11: Would have been 29th birthday, ghostbike
I describe the crash, the investigation and sentencing; I illustrate the life-altering mental and emotional changes I’ve gone through – indescribable pain, horrifying thoughts, bizarre side effects -; I detail the number of fatal crashes in the U.S. per year, that nearly as many people are killed every day as are sitting in that auditorium listening to me: someone every 15-16 minutes; and I end with suggestions on how to help “it” not to happen to them and how to not be responsible for “it” happening to someone else. Because, I say, “You don’t want this to be the last picture you take of your child, or any loved one, and know that it was 100% preventable,” and I display a picture of a dead Dustin in his coffin. 

These audiences vary every time. Some are very stoic or appear indifferent, some are angry, some bored. The seats are very close together and uncomfortable and the auditorium tends to get hot; there are few breaks and everyone is instructed that they can’t leave while there is a guest speaker. I usually go in while the speaker before me is presenting so I can get an idea of what that particular day's mood is.

Today, the audience appeared attentive and responsive. And, to toot my own horn, I think it was my best presentation to date. I was confident, articulate, on target, and didn’t forget anything I wanted to say. The fact that there was a young woman in the audience who didn’t stop crying the whole time convinced me I was making an impact. Actually, I’ve requested to be the last speaker at each class because my goal is to “leave them crying.”That feels good to me, like I'm making a difference. Like our story matters. Like I matter. 

But sometimes I feel guilty. For loving what I’m doing now. Because I wouldn’t be doing any of it if Dustin wasn’t dead. 

A link to some great reviews of one of the Trauma Nurses Talk Tough classes, before I had reason to be there

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Drive to Survive

Killed: 32,367 real people in motor vehicle crashes in 2011, including Dustin Finney, 28 years old.

We want to make it to 2014, right? And with all our parts working properly? Here’s some information to help us make informed decisions about our driving this coming year.

According to a preliminary report of the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) between January 2012 – September 2012, 25, “an estimated 25,580 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes. This represents an increase of about 7.1 percent as compared to the 23,884 fatalities that occurred in the first nine months of 2011.” 


Those are scary numbers (even without the increase). That is 2842.22 people per month, roughly 95 people per day. Real people, like Dustin. Not just “the driver,” “a passenger,” “a pedestrian.” Real people, like me and you. And your children or parents or spouses or siblings or friends.Your passenger?

We tend to think it’s “the other guy” causing all this destruction. No. Those aren’t serial killers out there mutilating and destroying people from their driver’s seats. Again, it’s real people – caring, loving people like you and me – who are doing it. And this is how:

Driving under the influence: 31%
Distracted driving (phones, GPS, radio, disruptive passengers, emotions, dropping something, eating)
Driving while drowsy
Reckless driving (speeding, unsafe lane changes, tail-gating, etc)
Running red lights and stop signs
Driving in adverse weather
Late night driving
Vehicle malfunction

And don't forget to wear your seatbelt (more than 50% of people killed, aren't)!

I’ve seen statistics that 85-90% of all crashes are due to driver error of one type or another. Isn’t it about time that we notice what we are doing and decide to do it differently?

I’ve always been positive I’m one of the best drivers on the road. But have I run the red because the green didn’t last long enough? Yes. Have I driven in icy weather even though I didn’t really have to but I wanted to? Yes. Have I fallen asleep at the wheel after working the graveyard shift? Yes. Have I tail-gated because the driver in front of me shouldn’t be in that lane going so damned slow? Yes. Have I used my cell phone while driving? Yes. And… have I driven drunk before? Yes, I’m ashamed to say I have.

And every single one of those things I have now consciously decided I don’t do anymore. It takes constant reminding. Constant. I don’t always succeed 100%. Even with my son killed by a bad driver, I have to remind myself constantly to drive more safely, more consciously, more courteously. And when I’m not worrying about all the other still bad drivers out there, I can admit that it feels better to drive better. It is a weight off my shoulders to not always have to be first, to not always be in a hurry, and to remember: there are real people in those other cars, on that bike, walking. 

Make the decision to drive safely. Start today, continue tomorrow. Because you don't want to be a Dustin Finney or an Ashawntae Rosemon. Or their mothers.