Let me start off by saying that I know I don’t always think like most people. This post will be further evidence of that fact.
There is one type of news story that always aggravates me to the point of agitation–and one of those stories is making headlines in Atlanta right now. Last Sunday around 2AM there was a tragic accident. A 23 year-old man left his bachelor party and decided to walk home. There were a couple of problems with this decision. He was 30-ish miles from home. He had likely been drinking (yes, this is an assumption on my part, but given the “party” and his poor choices, I’m throwing it in there). He opted to walk home on the 75/85 Connector. For those of you unfamiliar with Atlanta’s highways, this is the stretch through downtown where I75 and I85 are merged. It has been identified as one of the 10 most congested areas of interstate in the country. It has 7 lanes going north, and it has 7 lanes going south. It is not for pedestrians. The young man was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. Instead of a wedding tomorrow, the family had a funeral on Wednesday.
I am incredibly sympathetic towards the family. From all reports, this young man was kind and loving. I can hardly imagine the shock and grief and disbelief they must be suffering. What I say next is in no way meant to be disrespectful to them. The news stories have quoted them as saying, “We do not understand how someone could hit him and keep going,” and, “He wasn’t just some animal, he had family who loved him.” I understand why they have said these things.
However, the other thing that I understand is how a driver who hits a pedestrian can keep driving and not stop to help. The driver’s actions were not acceptable or legal. I do not intend to make excuses for that driver. I might be able to shed some light on why a person who is generally law-abiding and compassionate might not hang around after an accident like this. I know how a driver could leave the scene of an accident like that because about 15 years or so ago, I was one of those drivers. It was 6:30 in the morning and dark outside. I was driving to work, not speeding, and I had not had anything to drink prior to getting into the car. A woman stepped off the sidewalk into the street (there was no crosswalk). I swerved and tried unsuccessfully not to hit her. It happened so fast that I didn’t even hit my brakes. The skid marks I left on the street started past the point of impact. I doubt that I will ever forget the flood of emotions in the seconds after I came to a stop. I was in shock. I was terrified. I was anxious. If there has ever been a moment in which I wanted the earth to open and swallow me whole, that was it. I’m a nurse. I take care of people. I help strangers when I can. I did not for a second contemplate leaving the scene of the accident, but I would have given almost anything in the world to have been someplace, anyplace else at that moment in time. So yeah, I understand how a driver leaves after hitting a pedestrian. I don’t think it is okay, but I totally get it.
The hours that followed were some of the worst in my life. I remember saying at the time that it was the worst day I had ever had in my life. It seemed odd to say that, and I felt that I somehow needed to rationalize how ANY day could be worse than the day that Mother had died. I still can’t exactly explain it, but I still think it is true. Thank goodness a co-worker was driving not to far behind me and stopped. A physician who worked at a nearby hospital also stopped. The police and EMTs got there very quickly. The woman was badly injured and barely conscious. There was so much blood that the fire truck had to hose down the street after she was taken to the hospital. The police questioned me and gave me no information. Since this was before I had a cell phone, I asked if I could use the pay phone across the street. I was discouraged from doing so. The television reporters showed up. One asshole had the nerve to ask me if I would answer any questions. I didn’t answer any questions, but that didn’t stop them from filming me (without my knowledge) as I sat on the curb with my face in my hands. When my boyfriend got there (my co-worker sent him), I gave him my attorney’s phone number and he went to the pay phone. I’m sure their conversation was interesting, as “my attorney” was an ex-boyfriend–not someone with whom I had a professional/client relationship. When Scott got there, he asked the questions I had not known how to ask. He established that none of the evidence showed that events happened differently than I had described. I was asked to go to the jail to have labwork drawn as “was customary when there is a serious injury.” I was not exactly forbidden from riding with my friends, but I was not given permission to do so, either. I never really want to be in the back of a cop car again–just for the record.
When I started this post, I had no idea that I would give this much detail about what happened. I thought I would just post about that feeling of wanting to get away. The fact that the details were just waiting to be told shows how that day still affects me. I am different because of what happened that day. I had PTSD symptoms and didn’t sleep for weeks. I had a panic attack that evening when I thought about driving to work the next day. I called out and spent the weekend on my self-devised desensitization program. I had been depressed before, but that incident was the tipping point for me to start taking antidepressants–which I still take to this day.
I am incredibly paranoid about crossing the street without a crosswalk or against the light–even if there are no cars in sight. When I see people in the street when they shouldn’t be, I freak out at least a little–and sometimes a lot. I will not under any circumstances have more than a couple of drinks if I am going to drive, and that has to be over time or with a meal. My life did change that day, but not as much as it might have. If I had had ANY alcohol in my system and the exact same set of events had taken place, I would likely have gone to jail. The accident was not my fault, and a couple of drinks probably wouldn’t have made it any more my fault–except in the only way that matters–legally.
I used to hear the reports about hit-and-run drivers and think exactly what the family in the news is thinking. How could somebody do that? How could they just leave and not care? What kind of sociopath does that? I feel terrible for that family. I am sorry that a young man was killed. However, unlike most people who hear that story on the news, I also feel incredibly sorry for the driver. Had the driver been drinking? Did he not have insurance? Did he just panic and leave? I have no answers. The driver should have stopped. Unfortunately, I also know that that driver (unless he really is a sociopath) must be feeling horrible. Not the same kind of horrible as the family of the man who was killed–but horrible all the same.
**Part of me wants to hit delete because this post feels too depressing…but I’m hitting publish anyway.**