I have waited over a month for this. I waited so that I would have time to cool down, to contemplate and to have time to rationally weigh and consider my words.
As regular readers know (what few are left since I’ve been blogging so seldom lately…more on that later) my sister was involved in a bad car crash shortly after Thanksgiving.
Notice I didn’t use the term “accident”.
The Navy stopped using the term “accident” to define Aviation casualties and damage caused by unintended incidents many years ago. Their reasoning is that the term “accident” encourages the mindset that the incident was unavoidable, nothing and no one are to blame, and such incidents are just one of the costs of doing business in a hazardous environment.
The Navy rejected that premise, dropped the term “accident” completely from the vernacular (such incidents are commonly referred to as “Mishaps” in Naval Aviation) and committed the organization to investigating every mishap, identifying any and all causes, and mitigating those causes in order to prevent similar mishaps from occurring again.
Of course, human nature prevails and mishaps still occur, but this uncompromising, no excuses approach has had an amazing impact in reducing the equipment and personnel lost to both major and minor mishaps.
To illustrate: In 1950, the Navy/Marine Corps Aviation Major Mishap rate was 54 per 10,000 flight hours. That rate was reduced to 19 per 10,000 flight hours by 1961, 9 per 10,000 flight hours by 1971. By the end of my career in 2003, the rate was generally under 2 per 10,000 flight hours and in fiscal year 2010, the rate was below 1 per 10,000 flight hours.
Some may say that those improvements can be attributed to safer aircraft designs, innovations in pilot training procedures, the incorporation of the angled flight deck, the implementation of NATOPS and NAMP standardization programs etc….but what they fail to consider is that many of those initiatives were implemented as a direct result of the Navy’s newfound commitment to reduce mishaps by identifying the causes and implementing change.
In other words, through changing the atmosphere and mindset, the Navy morphed from a place where “accidents” and the death and destruction attendant with them were regular occurrences and were just an accepted part of doing business, to an organization where “Mishaps” are not tolerated lightly and occur rarely.
It’s a matter of mindset.
And that brings me back to my sister’s crash.
This is my understanding of what happened, based on news reports and third-had accounts of witness statements and the statement of the driver at fault:
My sister was driving southbound in her older model Chrysler Sebring convertible at about 4pm. She was in the driver’s seat with her fiance Bart in the front passenger seat and her 4 year old daughter in a carseat in the rear passenger seat Both Yolanda and Bart were wearing seat belts.
They were stopped at a red light. When the light turned green, they proceeded at a normal rate of acceleration into the intersection.
Randy Knieper was driving his late model Chevy Silverado pickup truck westbound. Reportedly, he had just purchased the truck and was still unfamiliar with its controls and accouterments. He was looking down “for a second” fiddling with some dodad or another and didn’t see the light change.
He stated that when he looked up, the light was red, it was too late to stop, he tried to miss the Sebring that was crossing the intersection but was unable to do so.
According to witnesses (again, third-hand, I haven’t read the actual statements, but this is what I’ve been told), Mr. Knieper never even slowed down, he blew through the light and plowed into the driver’s side door of the Sebring at full speed.
The Silverado hit the Sebring so hard that the car became airborne and was pushed all the way into the embankment off the southwest side of the road.
The truck was spun 180 degrees by the impact and came to rest facing east.
Based on the circumstances, it is my feeling that, Mr. Knieper’s statement notwithstanding, he never even realized he was in the intersection until, or perhaps a split second before, his truck impacted my sister’s car.
Based on my understanding of the facts, in my humble opinion, this was not “an accident”. This was negligence, pure and simple.
My sister’s was almost killed. Her breathing and heart stopped at the scene and she had to be resuscitated. She was kept alive by machines for the first several days and the Doctors were contemplating turning those machines off because they didn’t think the prognosis for recovery was very good.
Even if she recovers as fully and completely as possible, her life has changed forever, as has the life of her 4 year old daughter and those of the entire family.
All because the operator of a two ton lethal weapon couldn’t be bothered to pay freaking attention to the most important thing he was doing at the time.
Were I of a particular mindset and political persuasion, my reaction would be to begin lobbying for more state control over the weapon used in this incident. I’d be lobbying for limits on the size of vehicles available for sale to the public, on the engine capacity available to common citizens, or on the numbers of vehicles any individual citizen may own. I’d be lobbying for strict controls over who can purchase these lethal weapons including extensive background checks and approval from the government prior to purchase. I’d be demanding mandatory sentences for anyone found in possession of these weapons without approval, or for people who “allow” access to the weapons by unauthorized persons by failing to properly secure them when not in use.
Any of that sound familiar?
Luckily…both for me and for society…I’m not of that mindset or political persuasion.
What I want is simple, effective, and completely in keeping with the tenets of liberty and freedom.
What I want is for people to be held accountable for their own individual actions.
Most likely, the most severe penalty Mr. Knieper will face for the negligent act that has irrevocably and severely impacted the lives of an entire family, is that his insurance rates MAY increase somewhat.
Oh…and let’s not forget the $160 fine for running a red light. Surely THAT will help persuade people to take their responsibilities seriously when operating a motor vehicle, won’t it?
Sure, the family’s going to sue…but Mr. Knieper won’t personally be required to pay anything…his insurance company will. Heck, the insurance money for medical care ran out somewhere around day 5 in the Neurological Intensive Care Unit at Methodist Hospital. Yolanda didn’t have insurance because she was a temp employee and didn’t get benefits.
Guess who’s paying for her (extremely expensive) medical care now?
Is that fair? Is that right? Is that justice?
The reason I waited so long before posting this is because I wanted my anger toward Mr. Knieper to cool somewhat. I hold no personal ill-will against him. As a Christian, I realize that it is my charge to forgive those who have trespassed against me and mine; but that does not alleviate the trespasser from responsibility for their actions.
My forgiveness does not release Mr. Knieper from the consequences of his behavior.
The problem is that our current system of treating incidents like these as “accidents” that are really no one’s fault at all DOES release Mr. Knieper from the consequences of his actions.
And that is a travesty.
I haven’t decided on a course of action yet. I doubt that I’ll be starting any lobbying campaigns or grassroots movements any time soon to address this issue.
And I have no misconceptions about what effect this one incident, my small ineffectual voice, my ranting, is going to have on society.
I realize that as a society, we don’t WANT Mr. Knieper to be held accountable for his actions. Because we realize that, in the current climate of nonchalantly climbing behind the wheels of our lethal weapons every day and operating them as if we don’t have a care in the world, it could have been virtually any of us who happened to have been blowing through that particular red light at that particular moment. That if we hold Mr. Knieper to account for his negligence, someday that may be US being held responsible for destroying someone else’s life.
It’s much easier for us to just write it off as an accident. Not really anyone’s fault, just one of those things that happens and an unavoidable consequence of living in today’s world.
Because taking personal responsibility for our actions is just too damned hard.