Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Help My Mommy

Jessica and husband Keaton
“Help my mommy” are reportedly the words that a 4 year old girl said when a passerby stopped his vehicle to investigate a fresh gash in a tree off the road near Naselle earlier today. An article from the Chinook Observer is linked here:

Daughters Aryanna and Lylah
But basically what appears to have happened is 26 year old Jessica Rath was driving home after midnight with her 2- and 4-year old daughters in the car when the car left the road and struck a tree. Jessica died at the scene. Two very young children were left alive but injured, in the dark, for an estimated 8+ hours, with a deceased mother. How terribly sad! And what a terrific relief that a stranger took the time to check into something that  “struck him as weird” as he was driving past. I can’t even imagine what might have happened had he not stopped. 

During the KGW newscast regarding this story tonight, it said this young mother, Jessica, fell asleep. Driving while drowsy. Well, any way you look at it, if this is the case, she unintentionally but very preventably caused this tragedy. That sounds so callous of me to say. I’m going to leave it that way, though, hopefully to underscore that so many of us repeatedly do things behind the wheel of our cars that are dangerous and while we’re doing these things we make excuses in our minds… if we’re thinking about it at all. 

Who among us hasn’t had the thought “Boy, I’m tired. I probably shouldn’t be driving”? I know I have. And I’ve also followed that thought with, “Oh, I’ll be okay. It’s not that bad. I’ll 1) roll down my window, 2) turn the music up really loud, 3) insert your own strategy.”  I even know that I did in fact actually fall asleep once while driving home from a graveyard shift at Denny’s. Thankfully I made it home okay to my two (at that time) little boys. 

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) said on 1/7/13: “Although it may be difficult to attribute a fatal vehicle crash to drowsy driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 2.5% of fatal crashes and 2% of injury crashes involve drowsy driving.2 These estimates are probably conservative, though, and up to 5,000 or 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers. 3-5” (#2 references a 2011 NHTSA publication, 3-5 references reports of these organizations: 2006 Association for the Advancement of Automobile Medicine, 2006 Virginia DOT, and 2010 AAA ). The National Sleep Foundation (referenced by both the CDC and NHTSA) said in a 2007 report that 1550 people die and 71,000 are injured annually. 

Here are some signs that should tell a driver to stop and rest:
  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
  • Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
  • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
  • Trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
  • Feeling restless and irritable
And what appears to be a universal recommendation if you are driving drowsy:
Stop driving immediately. Pull over at a safe spot and take a quick nap. 

There are other suggestions, like stop for a cup of coffee, change drivers, etc., but even these are just other ways of saying Stop driving immediately. 

Nobody wants to have their two little girls stranded and injured outside a vehicle containing their dead mother’s body, especially when it was totally preventable. (And of course, other bad driving behaviors could lead to the same thing). Horrible!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

He's Dead and I'm Grateful Why?

What's there to be grateful for when your child's life is stolen in the space of an instant with no warning?


I'm grateful that Dustin's life ended in the space of an instant and that all evidence indicates he had no warning. I like to picture it as Dustin just riding along on his bike thinking happy thoughts about the evening he'd just spent with friends. He was doing one of the things he most enjoyed in the world (biking!), he had just been planning a trip to the beach with people he had loved for a long time, and he was happier in his life and with himself than I had ever known him to be. 

He was going to college and doing well. He was not only participating in groups and activities of great interest to him, but he was progressing as a leader and as an informed and intelligent commentator. It was not only a great honor to him but also a testament to his ability and likability that he went to his first Americans United for Separation of Church and State in February 2011 and was voted to the board just three months later. He was so thrilled! He organized AUs participation in the Portland Gay Pride Parade and was slated to organize their participation in the Vancouver Peace and Justice Fair.

As evidence of how well he was thought of in life, in memorium, he is being honored with the Dustin Finney Memorial Award to be given for the first time at the Northwest Freethought Alliance conference in April. This is an award of $500 for school books for students of Environmental Science who are also participating in community activities, like Dustin was.

And of course, he had the profound love and pride of his mother and step-father, sisters and brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles, other biological family members, and his friends who were and still are his other family. He was such a loving and intelligent man. We miss him so much!

So, more I think than anything else in my life, I am deeply grateful that he died in an instant with no warning.