The Angel of Luck was hovering over Manteca a few months back.
The caller was sure that was the case when she witnessed a hideous accident between a teen driver and a teen pedestrian.
She was worried that people —young and old but especially young — weren’t taking driving or walking seriously
She talked a few minutes about “what ifs.” What if the driver had been going faster? What if the pedestrian had been more alert and hadn’t apparently assumed the driver would see her?
The problem with “what if” is that they don’t usually happen until it is too late to do anything about them. One of the consequences the caller talked about was living with the knowledge that you have maimed or killed someone for life.
We both agreed the idea that car insurance could go sky high, driving rights could be revoked or other serious consequences could occur wouldn’t probably faze most young drivers.
I suggested that perhaps anyone driving with a provincial license should be required to attend a “scared straight” session at the county morgue or a nearby major trauma center if they are the cause of an injury accident.
I almost immediately mentally scratched the possibility since the carnage videos shown in driver’s education classes don’t seem to faze teens. They watch mayhem, body parts and death depicted on the evening news, network TV and the movies without flinching
Besides, these things happen to someone else, right? They never happen to kids.
I started working for my hometown newspaper at 15 as a photographer and sports editor. It was an eight-page weekly that stretched to 10 pages on a good week. You could understand why they’d hire a kid at 15 cents a column inch and a dollar for each photo used.
My first accident photo was at age 15 on Dec. 23, 1972. New Messenger Editor Barbara Alosi called. The police had alerted her to a terrible wreck just north of town on Highway 65. My mom drove me as far as she could. I walked the last half mile due to backed up traffic.
The thing I remember the most about that first accident photo were the presents strung about splattered with blood. They had already removed the victims. The mother and father were killed instantly. Two young sisters were in critical condition. The driver of the car that passed on a curve and slammed into them was an 18-year-old Lincoln High senior. He was seriously injured. I remember passing him in the hallway. He ran track and had planned a career in the Air Force.
He never graduated. He dropped out of sight. The next time I really came across his path was five years later when I was the police beat reporter at The Press-Tribune in Roseville. He had overdosed on heroin. It wouldn’t even have merited the newspaper’s attention except for the fact he managed to do it in a very public place near the front entrance to the police department.
His parents said he “lost” it on the night he was driving down Highway 65 as an invincible 18-year-old.
Over the years, I have gone to the scene of fatal accidents too numerous to mention. The common thread was either driving under the influence or inattentive driving at high rates of speeds. The latter was usually caused by someone under 25.
I’ve been accused at times of driving a little bit too defensively. I let people cut me off more often than not. A yellow light makes me want to slow down instinctively instead of speeding up even when I’m right on top of the intersection.
I’d like to say being hit by two drunken drivers — one that ran a stop sign and another that ran a red light — five years apart makes me take driving as a serious endeavor as it was intended.
But it actually was an accident I covered when I was 22. It was in Sheridan just north of Lincoln on a Sunday. The coroner was tied up in a case in Lake Tahoe. That unfortunately gave me plenty of time to reach the accident scene. I knew all of the deputies and the CHP officers at the scene. I had developed a working trust with them as a reporter-photographer. I made it a rule not to photograph anything that was offensive in anyway. In return, they usually let me get a bit closer than perhaps I should have been.
It is a camaraderie that comes from three or four years of going to accidents in the middle of nowhere at 2 a.m. with deputies trying to pass time on a cold night waiting for the coroner to arrive.
On this particular Sunday I was allowed to be in a place I probably shouldn’t have been. It allowed me an angle to see what happens when a 17-year-old thinking he could make it across a busy state highway with traffic whizzing by at 65 mph loses when he believes he’s invincible.
The teen was beheaded.
Later on, I found out the gruesome sight I was looking at was the younger brother of a classmate of mine from high school.
Worse yet, I had photographed his sister’s wedding the summer before and the teen whose headless body was under a sheet on the pavement was one of the ushers.
Of all the fatal accidents including one where a drunken driver killed eight people south of Lincoln and two triple-fatalities a month apart also outside of my hometown that I covered, none sticks in my mind more than the Sheridan accident.
I’ve seen the price one pays for being a tad too inattentive and feeling a tad bit invincible.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.