Sunday, March 24, 2013

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.

BMW, taken by KPTV
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.

Yuriy Tasmaly, taken by The Columbian
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.

Ashawntae and Dustin. Picture by Jonathan Maus
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.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sex, drugs, and traffic safety, Part 1

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.

Logan, practicing driving
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. Not even questioning it.

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 learned these facts and statistics from 2009 recently... okay, 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:

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 that was truly a good decision. And yes, good role-modeling.

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Small Step for Man, Small Step for Mankind

No giant leap for mankind here, but at least we're moving forward on changing hit-and-run penalties. On Monday at 1:00 p.m. House Bill 2542 is scheduled for public hearing in the House Judiciary Committee in Salem. Below is a description of the purpose of the bill:

"Increases period of revocation of driving privileges to three years if person convicted of failure to perform duties of driver causes serious physical injury to another."

My understanding is that currently someone convicted of failure to perform the duties of a driver: injury has a maximum one year revocation, regardless of the severity of injury. 

I am honored to have been invited to attend and provide testimony. Because this bill is related to injury hit-and-run as opposed to fatal hit-and-run, it appeared initially that the sponsoring representative wondered if our experience was relevant. At the request of attorney Joshua Shulman, I wrote an email explaining why I think there is not such a chasm between the two experiences. Part of my response is:
Acura that hit Dustin Finney

"...The legal aspect is also devastating emotionally whether it was a death or injury. A lot of the time the person who did it kind of gets to tailor his story the way he wants, to his benefit, since he’s not caught till he chooses to turn himself in or is unlucky like Ashawntae. By then he can sober up or otherwise try to make what he did more palatable. My unprofessional research indicates that many people who hit-and-run have these prior issues: are drunk or high, have a suspended/revoked license or none at all, have no insurance, have warrants for other issues or may have a history of issues and they know the consequences for this new situation will be worse because of their past. It seems to me that hit-and-runs result in more plea bargains than crashes where the driver stays. In our case, we were told they couldn’t prove Ashawntae was the driver and they had considered actually dropping the case entirely."

Porsche that hit Robert Skof
Proving my point and some background on why this bill was drafted is found in this story about Kirk Hanna, owner of Mt. Hood Ski Bowl, who seriously injured bicyclist Robert Skof in 2010:

Apparently there are people as outraged as me about how the Skof/Hanna case turned out. $500,000 does not let him off the hook; in a way it makes him more contemptible in my eyes (though I'm glad the victim got some compensation). I for one will not be visiting Mt. Hood Ski Bowl. 

Robert Skof
But if this case helps to increase hit-and-run penalties in the future, at least that is a good thing. 

And if I can help in this endeavor, that is a good thing, too.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Cop Talk, Killer "Gets It," Bicyclists are 'Dissed, Etc.

Exhausted but exhilarated. It has been a busy week. And more to come!

On Saturday Jenna and I attended the High Risk Driver class all day; I spoke at about 3:00. She especially liked the "cop talk" (a police traffic investigator explains the rules and consequences of the road and answers audience questions). Jenna's question: If someone has a BAL (blood alcohol level) of .169 4.5 hours after a crash, what is the estimate of his BAL at the time of the crash? The officer said it depends on who you ask. Defense attorney's say BAL increases for up to 3 hours or so after the person stops drinking and prosecutor's say it decreases. It seems to me someone would have already tested this somehow!

Zach Waddle and Libby Davis
Monday I spoke at a DUII class and for the first time listened to a father who lost his only son. Zach Waddle was 25 years old when he and his girlfriend/mother of his 11 month old son were killed by a drunk driver. This was a heart-rending story but unfortunately I was totally thrown when his father commented that no one should drive after even just one drink because Portland is full of bicyclists who never obey the laws and if one gets hit, even though it's the cyclist's fault, the driver will be blamed. !! (To be fair, there are many bicyclists not obeying the laws...but at least they are not driving tons of steel AND breaking the laws).

Tuesday was MIP (Minor in Possession) class. I changed my story significantly for this, focusing more on a younger Dustin and talking more about Ashawntae, the 18 year old who killed a man, went to prison, isn't able to be with his new baby, lost his girlfriend, whose Mom has visited only twice, will never be able to drive again, and has a homicide on his record. As usual, I had Dustin's urn and showed a picture of him in his coffin but this time I also took the bike. The organizers asked me to bring the bike every time. I was also invited to a Business Breakfast in March and if I can't make it (I'll make it!), asked if I could trust them with the urn and bike...I'm pretty possessive of those

Thursday I spoke at another DUII class. Presenting with me was a man who has made a huge impact on me. While drunk, he killed a mom and her two daughters - 4, 8 months - and severely injured the dad who was driving; fortunately the 2 year old boy was with Grandma and Grandpa. He plead guilty and was in prison for 8 years. I first heard him when I sat in on this class before I started speaking myself. This man has thought it all out from every angle. It's like he steps into my mind and understands my thoughts and feelings and then puts them into words that even I can't say. He makes me feel incredibly hopeful. I wish everybody hurt by Dustin's death could hear this man. (And you can; I can take guests with me any time).

So far for March:

Steph Routh with Sam Adams
*3/4, giving testimony in front of a judiciary committee in Salem on why hit-and-run laws need to be severe. Steph Routh of Oregon Walks (a huge pedestrian/bicyclist advocate) will also be there.
*3/9, 3/11, 3/12, 3/23: my four regularly scheduled High Risk Driver and DUII classes
*3/20: Business Breakfast for Oregon Impact

In April (besides my four regular classes):
*4/6, NW Freethought Conference and presentation of the first annual Dustin Finney Award

May: the usual four +
*5/31-6/2: The Compassionate Friends annual Seabeck Retreat (I can't wait!)

June: the usual four +
*6/26 or 6/27, presenting about the Facilitated Dialogue Program at the annual NW Justice Forum at Clackamas Community College

Hopefully my calendar will fill out more in the coming months with an even larger variety of events and opportunities for me! (And Jenna. Come on, Jenna!)