Accident: (noun): an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause.
Ten years ago, while enjoying a round of golf with my youngest brother, Steve, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, one of us broached the question.
“What if she had stopped to put gas in her car first?” one of us asked (I can’t remember if it was Steve or me). “What if she had stopped to buy a pop and a candy bar before heading home?”
Between golf swings, the one of us who asked the question received this reply: “What if she actually had … but had chosen instead not to?”
The “she” we were referring to was our niece, Elizabeth, who we lost exactly 11 years and one day ago in a tragic traffic accident about a mile east of Vermillion on Highway 50.
She had decided to take off from the Theta House – her Vermillion home at the time as her senior year at USD was just getting underway, to drive to the home of her mom and stepdad to meet up with my nephew. The following day, the two planned to drive up to Minneapolis to take part in the wedding of a stepsister.
Liz got about as far as the New 2 You consignment store east of town when she was hit probably head on by another USD student who had lost her way and was driving west on the eastbound lanes of Highway 50.
No matter what sort of news had happened this week, the memories of that horrible night just over 11 years ago would be front and center for our family on Sept. 17. The recollecting began a bit early for me when government officials announced the fatality in Hyde County last weekend involving South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.
Last Saturday night, Ravnsborg struck and killed Joe Boever on the side of Highway 14. He called 911 at the time, telling the Hyde County sheriff’s office he thought he hit a deer.
Ravnsborg borrowed the sheriff’s personal vehicle to drive back to Pierre, the attorney general said in a lengthy statement he released Monday night.
He returned to the scene of the crash the following morning on his way to return the sheriff’s car and he and his chief of staff found Boever’s body nearby in the ditch.
Social media has been on fire ever since the news of the fatality was announced Sunday evening, especially since the early news of the accident was so outlandish. I may have even weighed in with a comment or two before stopping to realize what my family learned just over a decade ago.
Traffic accidents are bizarre things.
Commenters on Facebook have speculated that Ravnsborg must have been drinking, he must have been speeding, he must have purposely known that he had struck a man, not a deer, and had driven off so that he could sober up before Mr. Boever’s body was found.
I’ve also read comments stating that the attorney general should be arrested and in jail already and that the only reason he’s not is that he’s part of the Pierre power structure and will naturally receive much gentler treatment than you or I would receive.
I understand all of that, along with the pain being felt by family and friends of Mr. Boever right now who mourn not only his death, but the peculiar way his life ended.
All I know is what I learned a bit over a decade ago to be a constant, certain part of all our lives each and every day.
Accidents – those events that occur without apparent or deliberate cause – happen. Most of the time, fortunately, they’re little, annoying things. Spilling your coffee in your computer keyboard – that sort of thing.
Sadly, however, they can be tragic and strike with such precision that they are hard to accept. The chances that my niece would meet a confused motorist driving the wrong way on the four lanes of Highway 50 at just the right moment late at night? A million to one? A billion to one?
I’d say the same type of odds were at work last Saturday night for our attorney general and Mr. Boever.
Our family’s various experiences that began this week in 2009 taught us a few things. We learned that accident investigations take much, much more time than we originally had expected.
We learned that investigators can’t really share details while the investigation is still ongoing. It’s part of their job to NOT say anything and the sooner the people screaming on Facebook right now accept that, the better.
My family’s experiences taught us, too, that all of this may end in ways that seem unimaginable at the moment. We learned that the outcome of a lengthy investigation of a horrible accident that claimed a beautiful life may conclude in traffic court with a fairly minor charge and a fairly minor fine.
So, yes, I made very human utterances this week at just how preposterous, at times, the story coming from officials about last Saturday’s accident seem to be.
And then I was reminded of that word near the end of my previous sentence. It was a terrible accident leaving pain and sorrow and guilt and a host of other things that combined produce suffering in the purest form.
There are people hurting right now. Let’s do what we can to not make their world any worse.
Let’s take a moment and not do, well, anything. Let’s be silent for that moment during this painful time and, if you’re so inclined, offer up a prayer or two.
Experience reminded us over a decade ago that such silent expressions are greatly appreciated at times like this.
I’ll put emphasis on the phrase “take a moment” here. There is important work that must continue by a host of people ranging from accident reconstructionists and pathologists to counselors who offer comfort and journalists who seek the truth.
Say a prayer for them, too.