I live just a few miles away from the intersection of Secondary Highways 855 and 637. The intersection is a four-way stop marked by oversized stop signs, flashing red lights and rumble strips. From two directions, if you’re a gambling person you could probably blow the stop sign and live to talk about it. For the other two sides, there is a farmer’s yard site that creates a blind spot.
Dozens of times a day, semis come to a rolling stop (an oxymoron if I ever heard one). Just as often, the people blowing through the intersection are driving small cars, pickup trucks or SUVs. Some show no signs of even slowing down, never mind stopping. As locals, we predicted a bad crash would happen there one day.
On Saturday, September 2, 2006, as I returned home from Edmonton, I saw flashing lights from about two miles south of the corner. “Oh, good there’s a Check Stop for the long weekend. It’s about time,” was my first reaction. As I got closer and saw the emergency response vehicles, police cars, pylons, and firemen diverting traffic, I knew it was bad. It was about 8:45 or 8:50 p.m. and already dark. I took the detour north and recounted my blessings when I saw Roy was safe and sound. We hoped it was no one we knew.
That was not to be. By Sunday afternoon, we knew the victims were a teller at our credit union and her husband. Injured, but alive, was their seven-year-old son. All of them were victims of an alleged drunk driver driving a motor home. I don’t know who stopped or should have stopped.
We were stung by the loss and angered by the senselessness of it all. We knew a little boy and his dependent adult older sister were orphans. Driving a combine affords an opportunity to do a lot of thinking. So in the days leading up to the large community prayer service, our thoughts kept drifting back to this tragedy. It took me several days to realize that if I had been half an hour earlier there, but for the grace of God, it could have been my family making funeral arrangements.
As a credit union director, I felt compelled to attend the service because Karen was one of ours. I sat in an area near the front of the hall reserved for co-workers and management. Not for the first time, I have seen the face of grief. As individuals, couples and families passed by, I saw heartbreak and hurt, shock and disbelief, pain and anguish. I saw people who’ve suffered their own losses. Was their presence here cathartic or comforting? Was their presence reciprocation for the outpouring of comfort and support they had received? Was this reliving their suffering?
Because we all die, maybe it shouldn’t matter about timing or cause. But damn it does! Stopping or not, drunk or not — these are all conscious choices with often deadly consequences, from where I sit.