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Fatal Accident On Memorial Is One More Red Light Facing Polk Drivers
Posted Sep 13, 2008 by Ted Hoffman
Updated Sep 13, 2008 at 07:12 PM
I’ve noticed these ... things, that seem to have popped up all over Polk County. They’re pretty and colorful, like tiny, whimsical, Christmasy lighthouses suspended above the streets, beaming their warming, warning lights to the vessels below.
You’ve seen them. I understand they’re called “traffic lights.”
This morning, at just after 8 a.m., the driver of an SUV on Memorial Avenue in Lakeland decided that his or her needs were greater than any responsibility to other drivers. The “traffic light” ahead of the SUV driver reportedly turned red, but this was like waving red in front of a bull. One presumes the driver righteously felt he or she was above such nonsense and didn’t have time or inclination to stop and wait like the other suckers.
The SUV reportedly roared through the red light and into the intersection at Lake Parker Avenue. The SUV struck a motorcycle and another vehicle that were legally turning on to Memorial. The motorcycle rider, not realizing the SUV driver’s unique sense of priorities, died. He died. Five others were taken to Lakeland Regional Medical Center. There’s no early word on their conditions, or on whether the driver of the SUV is among them.
There are several dozen reasons why a driver would ignore a red light, and all of them are excellent and easily embraced by those of us who nonetheless insist upon stopping.
Perhaps the driver was in a hurry; got a late start and oh my, if I hurry I can beat those other cars through the intersection! Maybe the driver was immersed in more important activities, such as text messaging or getting another french toast stick out of the paper bag in the passenger’s seat. Could be the driver simply recognizes the exorbitant price of gas and didn’t want to waste this precious resource by idling at the red light. Or perhaps the driver was bored with the radio station he or she had selected—how many times can you listen to “Forever” by Chris Brown, anyway?—and looked down to locate fresher ear candy. And hey, how realistic is it to expect a driver to watch for “traffic lights” when there’s a really hot chick or hunky fella on the sidewalk who’s just asking for a drive-by ogling?
Wonderful reasons all. I’m sure the family and friends of that motorcycle rider, and the occupants of the other vehicle the SUV hit, will be relieved to know there are such good and reasonable excuses.
Lakeland police, by the way, hadn’t released the name of the motorcyclist. Apparently they have this “next of kin” notification rule, which is terribly inconvenient for those of us who want our answers NOW, our satisfaction NOW, our license to ignore red lights NOW.
But in a way the names don’t matter. Of course they do, and hugely, especially to those who love and loved them. But these people, the latest victims of yet another red-light runner in an infectious plague that has surpassed epidemic status, are symbols. Good driving is helpless before reckless arrogance. As gas prices have risen, so have anger, impatience, disconnection. Look at the faces of the other drivers; how grim so many of them look ... even as they dial up vital calls on their cell phones or watch a soothing movie on the little DVD screen mounted on their dashboard. Who has time or patience for a red light?
So congratulations to the driver of that SUV. It is barely possible that there’s an actually credible excuse as to the running of the red light; mechanical or brake failure, for instance. We must consider that. But having seen so many charming drivers barge through intersections well after the pretty light’s color has jumped from yellow to red, I find it vastly more likely the driver simply put him- or herself above not only the law but above the lives of the other drivers and pedestrians at that place, at that time.
One dead. Five hospitalized.
Statistics that will be repeated again and again, representing people who are here but once.
It used to be called a moral compass, but a no less efficient metaphor is to talk about the traffic signals in our heads and hearts. The ones that offer an encouraging green for certain actions, that glow a caution-filled yellow when we need to brake, that glare crimson when our conscience bellows, “Stop.” The fear, as in the case of the SUV driver, is that so many seem to be colorblind.
I don’t know if there’s any solace in the fact this incident happened on a street called Memorial. Certainly members of the families of those injured and killed will remember. We can’t bring the motorcycle rider back, nor erase the scars of the others injured today. But we can learn to heed the traffic lights, those above the roadways and those we have internalized. And we can stop when it’s proper and safe to. No text message or thimbleful of gas is worth someone else’s life.