Last week, after picking my oldest daughter up at school in Lenox, my children and I witnessed an extremely serious accident.
A bicyclist, heading south down the hill on East Street, rode right into the path of an oncoming oil truck heading east on Housatonic Street.
Immediately after impact, several people hopped out of their cars and scrambled to call 911, assist the victim and console the oil truck driver. One man approached, identifying himself as an ER doctor, and was able to provide hands-on care to the victim while other medical personnel were in route. Another man pulled over and diverted traffic to make room for the incoming police and ambulance.
In moments like this, my faith in humanity is always restored. Seeing how quickly strangers come together to assist, amidst tragedy, is often a silver lining.
Later that night, I was called into the Lenox Police Department to make a statement. I told them exactly what I saw and how I could not imagine any scenario where the truck driver could have avoided the collision. He slammed on his brakes before the bicyclist even hit the intersection and was pulled over and out of his truck before anyone else was.
Similarly, the conditions were less than ideal for a bicyclist; the ground was wet and the rain impaired visibility. I commented to an officer that a cyclist who was not local, with the rain and the chaos of that area at school dismissal, may not have known he was even approaching an intersection until it was too late. Maybe his brakes failed, maybe his hand or foot slipped.
We don’t know. Sometimes, tragic accidents just happen.
I barely slept that night after learning the biker was not, in fact, local, and imagining the parents that had to drive hours to be at the bedside of their critically injured son. My chest physically hurt imagining the pain of that mother and knowing the severity of her son’s situation. Likewise, I am horrified for the poor truck driver, and the awful predicament he is in for life through no fault of his own.
Viewing posts on social media the next day was frustrating: adults spreading rumors about who the victim was; people commenting on the truck driver “(obviously) being distracted by a cell phone”; and, the most infuriating of all, posts about the biker getting what was deserved for not obeying basic traffic rules.
I couldn’t help but envision his mother, driving hours to see her broken child, and seeking answers or information online, only to come across some of these grossly insensitive posts. Quickly, my faith in humanity was lost again.
I initially had no intentions of disclosing my experiences from Wednesday’s accident, but I have never been one to bite my tongue in places where I can diffuse cruelty. Out of respect for two families who have endured an unfathomable tragedy, and who likely have a long path ahead of them, show a little compassion. Please.
You may have to come down off your high horse to see it, but sometimes things just happen that don’t require us to point fingers or assign blame. I assure you no one was “asking for this.”
After sharing my discouragement on social media, I learned that the bicyclist, Benjamin Kaplan, 29,of Larchmont, N.Y., succumbed to his injuries on Mother’s Day. Ben was an ESL teacher who had attended an Ivy League college and was fluent in nine languages. His untimely death seems so unfair.
Sadly, this was not the first fatality that my children and I had the misfortune of witnessing near this intersection. Four years ago, after picking up my youngest daughter at daycare, I was driving east on Housatonic Street when a westbound driver hit and killed area resident Patrick Kelly.
We saw Pat on that road often; he lived with his mother and would collect her mail daily, always sporting a bright yellow reflector vest as he crossed the street to do so. The day he was hit, just west of the intersection, he was suited up and ready to fulfill his daily duty. At the young age of 32, his death was hard to make sense of.
Yet here we are again. We must figure out a way to do better.
I share my experiences in part to expose the truth and to promote understanding and compassion, but also because I have a few valuable takeaways from this tragic situation, and felt inclined to pass them along:
1. There were numerous children who witnessed this accident. Many of them were on foot and had to walk home, alone, after seeing this happen just feet in front of them. Watching what we say is just as important for their mental health as it is for common decency. Please be kind.
2. Doctors and Nurses are so underrated. This is not the first (or second) time I have been present at the scene of an injured person where doctors and nurses have not hesitated to identify themselves and help before EMTs can arrive. This is my public “thank-you” to the many of you who serve in these selfless positions.
3. This is your reminder to stock your car with an accessible first-aid kit and some rubber gloves. The doctor on scene had asked me for some and all I had to give was a pair of cloth winter gloves found in my center console, despite the hundreds of rubber gloves that are in my closet at home, completely useless to me that day.
4. I just wanted to give a huge kudos to the team of Lenox first responders, who arrived within three minutes of my call to 911 and were phenomenal from start to finish.
5. Lenox Memorial Middle and High School Vice Principal Mr. Cogswell, you are a gem. One minute, you were in the school doing your day-to-day routine with the students. The next, you were out in the pouring rain, directing traffic in the mess of cars that flood the school lot at dismissal. Not five minutes later, you had run down to the scene of the accident to jump in and help, only to be back in the office and reaching out to me, via phone, to check on my children before we even made it home. Thank you for all you do for our community.
6. Yesterday, determined to make change, I wrote a letter urging local officials to employ a four-way stop sign at the East and Housatonic intersection. Letters were sent to multiple agencies, both electronically and via USPS. I refuse to stand by and wait to witness a third incident where another mother must bury her child. If change does not come to fruition, I promise it will not be for lack of trying.
7. Hug your children tight. Life can change in the (literal) blink of an eye.