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Start pointing fingers and we end up jabbing each other

January 19th, 2005 · 2 Comments

The death of 16 year old Sarah Gillette in a reckless auto accident this summer has saddened our island community. Recently two 14 year olds were sentenced for their involvement: one of them stole the car from her parents and the other was driving at the time of the crash. Although descriptions of the first sentencing seemed to be hopeful indications of healing in the community, reports from the interchanges during this second sentencing have given me concern. From the January 8, 2005 Bainbridge Review

After delivering the sentence, the judge said, “There is nothing the court can do to turn back he clock. To bring back Sarah. I am hopeful that the families can begin to heal. But it will take time. There is a lot of anger and bitterness.
“Hopefully, in time, that will turn around.”

Another article in the January 12, 2005 paper revealed Sarah’s mother’s vision:

From the death of her daughter in an August car crash, Caroline Brooks is working for change.
Brooks wants parents to be liable for the criminal actions of their children, and for children to know that the stakes are high when a crime is committed.
“We want to make parental accountability an issue,” Brooks said, with legislation that would impose stiff fines and up to one year in jail for parents who “knew or should have known,” that their children’s activities could result in death or injury.

I don’t know what it is like to lose a child. I can only imagine. Losing my brother was painful, a ripping within our family that still hurts years later.

I didn’t know Sarah. But I want her death to have a purpose. I want to see changes happen in our community.

I have hesitated to reveal my response to these recent reports. Who am I to speak? Yet Saturday’s edition of the Review was filled with letters in the editorial section, many islanders sharing some of the same concerns I have.

Grief is a powerful force. Grief can isolate or unite. Our island seems to becoming more divided through this accident rather than gathered together. We are a community. We share this space, this island, this piece of land in Puget Sound. We share together in sorrow and responsibility. At this point though I fear that damage is so deep, we will only begin jabbing each other, assigning and denying blame. Yet each one in the car shares in responsibility for what happened. So do all the families involved. And we as a community and as individuals should examine ourselves. What part did we play in this tragedy? What I can do to help? I hope for healing. I hope for an island that can grow together stronger through the scars. Legislation is not the solution.

Tags: island

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chas Redmond // Jan 21, 2005 at 12:33 am

    How is the 14-year-old driver more responsible than any of the other children who were in the car? If I’ve learned anything about teenagers as a parent it’s that groupthink takes over at the worst possible imagined times (parent’s perspective) and the kids themselves are always believing they can do something for which they have no experience base. It seems to me that about half the Island is taking this whole thing completely wrong and is being vindictive about it. I’m somewhat happy not to be on your island while this gets sorted out. In more urban environments, accidental deaths in cars by teenagers driving illegally has come to be – sadly – a somewhat everyday occurrence. I’d say Bainbridge’s residents have a lot of inward thinking to do on this one. No one’s at fault. It was bad judgment – and it happens all the time elsewhere – maybe not on Bainbridge (well, until now). Just north of my old hometown (DC), Montgomery County, Maryland, has had 14 teenage deaths in 12 separate automobile-bad-judgment accidents since late last Summer. No one there is calling for kids or parents to spend jail time – they’re trying to figure out better ways to educate the kids (and the parents) and make some corrections on roads they know will be used by teenagers being teenagers. Brrrr – what I read from your links gave me the chills, frankly.

  • 2 Walker Willingham // Jan 25, 2005 at 11:01 pm

    We can hope that the finger pointing and more histrionic reactions only seem more apparent because they draw more attention, and that soberer reflections such as yours predominate.

    Reflection on our collective role, though, is something that gets far too little attention, and I’m glad you brought it up. It reminds me of the summer of 2001 when my family was vacationing in the Canadian Rockies. We were hiking at the base of the Athabascan Glacier, and there were STOP signs warning people not to go on the ice. Unlike the time I was there in 1977 though, the ice tapered down so that stepping on it was easy, and ‘everyone’ was venturing a little ways onto it for the experience. We did too with our then 8-year-old son, but very conservatively did not venture far or stay long.

    Two hours later as we pulled out of the parking lot sirens approached. On our drive to Jasper, more and more emergency vehicles zipped by in the opposite direction. That night we heard the news that a Japanese professor, teaching for a year at a Calgary school went with his son to the glacier, and the son was eventually pulled lifeless from the crevasse.

    Yes we were conservative, but our venturing across that barrier contributed to the ethic of not taking those signs seriously. All of the visitors that day who walked onto the glacier share in some measure the responsibility of that tragedy. I can easily believe that had the professor and his son approached the toe of the glacier and seen no one or probably even just a very few of the other visitors obeying the sign, they would not have ventured forth themselves.

    It is a sobering lesson that I carry with me, not with self-hatred or recrimination, but with a new recognition of the responsibility I carry with me whenever I act in public.

    Few among us can not look back on some youthful indiscretion when thinking of the island’s tragedy this summer and not think “but for the grace of god, there go i.”

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