Editor's Note: With the recent rash of car crashes, including one that took the life of a young child, I offer this editorial I wrote nearly two years ago and appeared in the Elkin Tribune.
It is one of those moments in the news business that frames everything – that jarring moment when you watch as the lives of an entire family are changed forever.
I saw the wisps of her blond hair bouncing in the cold wind as the EMS professional gently carried her to the waiting helicopter. Her young life was slipping away. And then it did.
It wasn't the cold that had me frozen in that moment last Monday. It was the thawing realization of how fragile life really is.
As those of us in the news business navigate and document history daily, we encounter the breathtaking wonder of life and the sad reality of death. We see it moment-to-moment – day-to-day.
It feels like we're riding a whirlwind, thrown about from one extreme to the next.
And despite those peaks and valleys of daily life, a peculiar sort of monotony sets in – like it does for all of us.
And before you know it, you're standing outside on a diamond-clear day with a raw wind tearing at your bones looking at the wreckage of, in this instance, two vehicles torn asunder by the terrific forces created when metal, glass and rubber collide at 45 mph.
And in that terrible moment, lives come unspun.
As newspaper people, we are supposed to look dispassionately at the world around us.
But it is in these terrible moments when our fašade of objectivity is torn away.
And as we try to make sense of unfolding tragedy, we search for answers, asking ourselves, why did this happen?
Usually, there are no easy answers. Most senseless tragedies are just that – senseless, bereft of any real meaning. And, for the most part, there is an absence of malice.
The violent moment of impact between two vehicles is usually the culmination of several small mistakes that occurred in just the right order.
Unfortunately, our experience with too many accidents over the years has offered us a few ideas on how to make fewer mistakes when operating a motor vehicle.
First and foremost – drive. Don't ride behind the wheel. When we mean “riding behind the wheel” we mean, talking or texting on a cellphone, eating or putting on make-up.
Buckle up and we mean everyone. We have been around long enough to remember when seatbelt use wasn't mandatory. We remember how the troopers would tell us after another fatal accident that “if they only would have had on their seatbelt.”
Follow the rules of the road.
And the obvious, don't drink and drive. That almost goes without saying.
Despite these words, we have no illusions. There will be another terrible day when we will again be forced out of our monotony to record that terrible moment of impact. It might be a warm, sunny day, not a cloud in the sky.
As we stand there, watching the dark horror unfold, we'll again search for the answers – asking the same questions – why?
And while we watch, record and ask questions, another family's history is altered forever.