Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Elmo, the Guardian Angel

We (Katherine, Rudi, Alex, and I) were driving to Toronto recently, and I noticed a small cross at the intersection of Walker Line and the Huron Road, not far from Tavistock. I had no recollection of a (obviously fatal) collision occuring there, so later I checked it out. The collision happened early in August, when we were probably at the cottage, which explains why I knew nothing about it.

It seems a minivan driving down Walker Road with several children and an adult driver was broadsided by a pickup truck driven by an older lady from Stratford who failed to recognize and obey the stop sign on the Huron Road. Rowan Ainsley Dunk, aged twenty months, was taken to McMaster Medical Center where she later died from injuries sustained in the collision.

A few nights ago, on my way back from a job in kitchener, I stopped at the cross, and read the inscription. I brushed a bit of dirt and mud off Elmo, sat him up properly, and took two photographs. The tears came easily as I did that, just as they are coming right now as I write this. All the usual thoughts run through my mind. Why did this have to happen, how can the families, friends, and relatives of little Rowan cope, it must be heartbreaking, what a tragic loss. I can only begin to imagine how witnessing something like that might affect someone, as fortunately, I have never witnessed the cloaked traveller walk away with a child.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Conversation

What follows is a conversation I had recently with a nice young lady, a professional I deal with on the rare occasion. The conversation occurred over a month ago, and I have taken a bit of license in retelling, especially with regard to details about the accident.

"I don't say I suffer from it, but I guess I could say I am affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

"Oh my god, what do you do, are you a firefighter, or a cop or something?"

"Nope, I just drive, I drive, and I see people die... In car accidents - collisions actually, I just have the luck to seeing them happen a lot."

"Well, that's not really luck..."

"Luck for me perhaps, I'm still alive... But yeah, I have probably seen a dozen fatal collisions. Things that have made me turn around and puke out my guts, things that have made cops arriving do the same thing... I just happen to be there right when, I mean these things happen right in front of me... It starts to give you a different outlook on things."

"Yeah, I can imagine, like things matter differently."

"Yeah, like everythings okay when no one dies, you start to relax about everything, 'cause nothing really matters that much, what people think are problems aren't that big really."

"Wow, I kind of know how you feel."

"I had a feeling you might, what happened... What was it you saw?"

"There was... It was a guy racing a motorbike, way too fast...Lost control totally after passing us on the way to Grand Bend... Just going way, way, way to fast, couldn't make the curve, hit the shoulder, then flipped into the ditch and into a tree."

"Jesus, that's terrible... So he died"

"Yeah, and his buddies were on other bikes right behind, it was terrible. His body was completely crushed when he hit the tree, and his friends... his friends were completely freakin out, calling his name, trying to get him to respond... but the guy was dead, obviously... instantly."

"Long time ago now?"

"A couple of years now, four actually"

"You still cry? I mean, something sets you off, and you just cry"

"Yeah... Yeah I do."

"It gets a bit easier with time... but you will always find something does set you off... I was at the cottage recently, reading an article by some guy who came across a collision... Joining the club I guess! I just broke down and cried. It all comes flooding back..."

"And I get angry... I hate to say it, I just... I really..."

"You're pissed at him for doing that, for killing himself..."

"Yeah, exactly... I know it's not right, but sometimes I hate him for what he did... I mean he was married, and had two kids... Christ how can you do that? How can you be... How can you..."

"Be so completely irresponsible?"

"Yes... How can a person do that? I just can't imagine being like that"

"I don't know, I really don't"

"And even now I get angry when I see guys doing stupid things like that... I mean my husband was with me, saw the whole thing, he would never do anything like that..."

"At least he knows how it affects you, and you him... Lots of people will never understand really..."

"Yeah I got that, It's not that bad really, but still, It's there... you're right, they have no idea"

"Welcome to the club... There are no merit badges or anything though, just scars... that fade over time..."

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Emotional Tsunamis

It was on the last day of our Easter weekend at the cottage when the 'Tsunami' broke. The only way I can describe these events is like sitting near a rocky seashore on a calm day, watching the small waves roll in, crashing easily on the rough, broken shore. And without warning, I notice a mammoth wave, rising in the distance from the deep sea, like a tidal wave, or a tsunami. It is racing in at a speed tenfold that of the small waves swelling and breaking, and overtakes numbers of them as it heads toward the shore. It is now only seconds away, and starting to break, and is easily twenty times taller than all the others now. And then it crashes furiously into the rocky crags and jagged cliffs, the sound thundering and deafening, the ground shaking and rumbling beneath my feet, even from my vantage point several hundred feet away. And then the spray comes, great plumes of water soaking the upper reaches of the shoreline. And as quickly as it arrived, the water recedes back to the sea, and the quiet smooth waves continue breaking against the shore, as if nothing had happened.

I had just started reading the Weekend Living section of the Saturday edition of the Toronto Star when I noticed a cropped photograph of a Paramedic ambulance accompanying an article. The article was entitled 'Tragedy forges an unlikely bond' by Tom Scanlan, part of the Slice of Life Series. It was a simple, heartfelt account of a drivers experience as he had the fortune of happening upon a collision on the highway driving home from the cottage. I had to read it, and I also knew exactly what would happen to me if I did.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Slideshows

I remember arriving home one day, and for some reason the slide projector in my head was clacking away, frame after frame projected against the white screen of my mind. Clic-Clack steam rising from the obliterated front end of what was a speeding Mustang just one minute ago, only barely visible on this moonlit night. Clic-Clack the crumpled body of the driver of the Mustang, now mangled in the crushed front end of the Minivan that he had just struck head on. Clic-Clack looking down the dark roadway at the darker lifeless body of what must have been the passenger in the Mustang, ejected through the windscreen like the driver, but who sailed past the minivan instead. Clic-Clack closer now to the body on the roadway, legs crumpled, torso scrunched up with shoulders inclined down as if the head were kissing the ground, but something a little funny about that. Clic-Clack closer now from the side of the body on the roadway - sweet Jesus fucking Christ - the shoulders and neck inclined into the roadway, but you cant bury your head in asphalt, where in the name of Christ is your head? Clic-Clack looking up toward the side of the darkened road, and seeing the small, round, black form sitting on the shoulder.....oh fuck, I could feel the heave in my gut, and I just started puking right there......

"David, have you heard one word of what Rudi has been saying?" It was Katherine, pissed of course.

"Oh, sorry! What was that Rudi?"

"I was asking... I was just asking if you wanted to play spies with me daddy. You can be spy number two, and I will be spy number one"

"Spies! ok little guy, lets go play spies. But why can't I be spy number one?"

Clic-Clack.........Clic-Clack........Clic-Clac.......it was muted somewhat now, but the slideshow continued relentlessly.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


On a very few occasions, especially over the last few years, it has seemed as if I could actually predict the outcome of a situation while it was in progress. The most compelling of these was the incident invovlving the two racing drivers in Kitchener, on November 30 2005.

To keep a long story short, I was in the position of being involved in the situation well before the collision that resulted in the death of an innocent driver. I was driving up Victoria Street one afternoon, when a vehicle being driven in a very agressive manner came up behind me, following far too close. I knew he was trouble. It was a two lane road in each direction, and he was behind me in the left, as it seemed to be moving faster initially. I knew the road very well, and wanted to keep this idiot behind me until the road widened past the expressway, so as I watched the traffic flow ahead, I noticed that the driver in our lane ahead was losing a bit of speed, so I thought I would make the change to the right lane, now moving a bit faster. Too late though, because just as I decided to make the change and signal right, the guy behind me in the SUV had jumped in and nosed his way forward. Sixty seconds later an innocent man, Mike Doherty, was fatally injured.

What gets me is that I had identified a potential issue, and decided to do something to prevent it from becoming worse, but unfortunately I acted too late. Had I acted on my instinct and experience one second earlier, Mike Doherty would be alive. One time I mentioned this to Katherine who replied that I couldn't have done anything about it. Well in this particular case I could have, but decided to late, and someone died as a result. That is something I get to live with, that directly or indirectly, I failed to prevent someone from dying. Perhaps someday you will be in a situation like that, or know someone who is. Guilt will be a strong emotional response. Don't try to invalidate it by suggesting you or they "couldn't do a thing about it". I think a much better response to the person experiencing the guilt is the simple, unadorned truth: You could have done something about it, but for whatever reason you did not, or could not, or what you did was too late; it is these mistakes that make us human, and that we learn from: perhaps in a future situation what you do will lead to a better outcome.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Other Victims

As I have mentioned earlier, some of my encounters with the cloaked traveller were a direct result of someone's complete lack of good judgement, or selfishness, or total lack of respnsibility. It is these events to which I consider the traveller has been invited, when he absolutely did not need to be. Generally it is easy to determine who the victims are, as they are lying lifeless in their vehicles, or die on the way to hospital, or perhaps after being admitted. And for some reason, these victims generally did not bring their deaths upon themselves, but had another person deal them their final hand.

There are however, a group of other individuals who can also be identified as victims. Although they do not suffer any physical harm, the emotional, psychological, and mental injuries they suffer can last a lifetime. They are the people who, like me, have to witness the completely abysmal behaviour of some total fuck-up who, driving like a complete moron decides to kill somebody else on the road. Pardon the language, but there really isn't a simpler way of expressing it.

My goal in presenting this argument is not to garner any sympathy, as I don't need it, but for the reader to understand that in every collision that claims a life or lives, not only are the lives of the few people directly involved affected, but those of a large number of other people as well: The families and friends of the all the drivers and passengers involved in the collision, all of the witnesses to the collision, and their families, as well as all the emergency personnel called out to clean up the carnage.

Sometimes I get angry, and think "What fucking right do you (the irresponsible driver) have to come out here on a public roadway, risking the lives of both yourself, and other innocent people, or even killing someone outright.....If you want some death, just stay at home and blow your fucking brains out in front of your TV, and make the world a whole better place."

I remember testifying in a case involving two men charged with Dangerous Driving (Cause Death) about a year and a half ago. One thing I will never forget is speaking with another witness, who had been driving directly behind the vehicle involved in the head-on collision caused by one of the two "racing" vehicles. It had been almost two years after the collision, and in that length of time she never got behind the steering wheel of a car. She had been completely traumatized by the violence and horrific nature of the collision, and the death of the innocent driver in front of her. Not a particularly good thing for her, as she had a good career as an outside sales representative of a large canadian pharmaceutical company. I think the company made room for her in the organization, but what if they couldn't? That would be the end of her career in that field.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

No One Said Life Was Fair

Over the years I have lost count of the number of people I have witnessed die. It is certainly well over 10, but if i sat down and thought about it, dug deep, I think the count is closer to 15 or 16. There are many questions I have asked myself, thoughts I have pondered, as a result of my meetings with the traveller. Probably the most compelling, however, is the argument that life should be fair, that of those who died, most of them did not deserve death. Why did these people die? Whose right was it to take their lives from them? I can't begin to imagine the sense of loss, heartbreak, and sorrow experienced by those who have been told that someone they love has died as a result of an automobile collision.
One of the more recent