Carnage and Lack of Remorse: Elderly Drivers – (The Case of George Weller) 

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Having worked with elderly clients for years, I know the struggle families face when they come to the “crossroads of life” in many arenas. There are so many things that can go wrong to cramp your style when it comes to independence. However, when it begins to impact others such as driving, we have to balance this privilege with public safety.

Do we help someone maintain their dignity and independence at the risk of their life and the lives of others? I think not. All of us will have to give up this rite of passage at some point. The question becomes, where do we draw the line? Is it a score on a driver’s re-training test? It is so many interactions, close calls or lapses in judgement or concentration? There is no uniformity nationally. Each state has its own criteria.

The 2003 case of 86 year of George Weller from Santa Monica, California may seem obvious on the face of it. When I looked closer, I was appalled at the true facts from a variety of sources.  This case illustrates the perfect storm – a disaster of mass proportion that NEVER should have occurred. It will live in infamy for the 80+ families experiencing death or serious injury as well as the entire community.

Witness Accounts-

  • Officers interviewed more than 100 witnesses, who gave conflicting reports regarding the driver’s demeanor at the time of the incident.
  • After it was over, witnesses said he yelled at pedestrians, “You saw me coming. Why didn’t you get out of my way?”
  • “Sixty miles per hour and it wasn’t slowing down. It was flying. And then people down, dead and everything,” said David Lang, manager of a shoe store along the market route.
  • One witness said: “It was like a Sherman tank barreling through, hitting everything, and just going right over people.
  • “He was not only speeding, he was accelerating.”
  • “He looked very, very confused,” Crisman said. “I think he was just mentally out of touch. He seemed very confused when he stepped out of the car. He definitely shouldn’t have been behind the wheel.
  • “I heard a car just hit, bang, bang, bang,” said Mojgan Pour, 38. “I heard people screaming. By the time I looked, I never even saw the car. I tried to help a man and he died while I was helping him.
  • Witnesses testified that he stared straight ahead with both hands on the steering wheel while bodies flew over the hood of his car.
  • Bodies were sprawled all over in the strawberries.

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Facts of the Case:

  • On July 16, 2003, at 1:47 p.m. this 86-year-old drove his 1992 Buick LeSabre (weighing 3,340 lbs.) at moderate to high-speed for at least 3 blocks into crowds of people congregating at the popular Santa Monica Farmer’s Market at the Third Street Promenade. This market is the largest and oldest  organic market held every Wednesday and Saturday on  Arizona Avenue between 2nd and 4th Street;
  • The Market was established in July 1981 with 75 farmers and thousands of pedestrians visiting bi-weekly. Arizona Avenue ends at the ocean and is blocked off during market days.
  • Weller intended to mail a letter, drove westbound down Arizona Avenue , initially striking a 2003 Mercedes-Benz stopped at a cross walk.
  • He then accelerated around a road closure sign, through wooden saw Horses and into the crowd ~ 1,000 feet going 40 to 60 mph in just 10 seconds;
  • Significant was the fact that no brake lights were noted by witnesses.  Weller didn’t move, effectively steering his car down the middle of the street into people versus trying to avoid hitting pedestrian versus steering into saw horses and fruits –vegetables, this avoiding self-injury.
  • Weller’s car finally came to a stop after hitting a ditch when a body became entangled underneath his car and others flying in the air, landing on the hood;
  • In 2000, he passed a written test with a fairly high score and there the requirements stopped for license renewal. He had heart disease, but no report stated he had any significant side effect from his medication, nor was any alcohol found.
  • In the immediate aftermath in which George Weller plowed his big car into the crowd, 9 people were killed and 54 hurt which increased to 10 dead and over 70 injured.
  • On July 24, 2003, it was reported that state officials revoked Weller’s driver’s license;

Court Proceedings- Main Issues for the Jury-

Did Weller have control of the car during the 10-20 seconds; The prosecution said yes, he had plenty of time to “self-correct”. The defense claimed “pedal error”- confusing the brake for the accelerator

What was the definition of Felony Gross Negligence- “More than ordinary carelessness, inattention or mistake in judgement.”

  • On January 6, 2004, Weller pleaded not guilty to the charges before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paula Adele Mabrey and was released on his own recognizance.
  • On January 14, 2004, victims and relatives filed suit against the City of Santa Monica and Bayside District Corp., organizers of the Santa Monica Farmers’ market, alleging that the crash could have been prevented by the installation of metal barriers. Attorney Geoff Wells, representing victims- relatives, stated that the defendants failed to take any reasonable steps to provide protection for the patrons at the farmer’s market.” In 2008, the City of Santa Monica had thus far paid out $21 million to settle dozens of civil lawsuits stemming from the case.
  • Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson said he agreed completely with the jury and called Weller’s actions callous and showing “an enormous indifference to human life.”
    George Russell Weller was convicted Oct. 20 of 10 counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence
  • The judge noted that Weller had enough control of his vehicle to avoid cars and trucks within the farmers market.
    “Mr. Weller chose to steer into the people, plowing into the crowd and literally launching bodies into the air as his car sped 2½ blocks,” the judge said.  He also called Weller’s apologies hollow.
  • As Weller was too ill with heart disease, confined to bed and did not attend the proceeding the Judge said he wanted to be practical and save the taxpayers money, knowing that prison would kill Mr. Weller. 
  • Weller, almost 90 years old, was placed on five years’ felony probation and ordered  to pay $90,000-100,000 in penalties, including fines and restitution to two families with others still in process.

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Parting thoughts-

Below is an excerpt of his police interview. As a former food broker, it is incredulous to me that he appeared more concerned that the people he killed and injured did not get the value for their purchases versus the loss of life.  What??  And he didn’t just contribute to it, he caused it! 

George Weller’s words

“But, God almighty, those poor people. Poor, poor, tragic people. I had, I have the feeling that they were just down there for the value of the thing in the first place because the prices were good. And what a tragic ending to their outing, and I contributed to it, which is just almost more than I can figure out.”

On September 26, 2006 the jurors heard Weller describe the last time he renewed his California driving license. He told police that he took a written test but wasn’t required to show that he could drive safely.

“I passed the written test, high enough to where they didn’t ask me to take a drive, particularly at my age,” “I lucked out,” Weller said on the tape.”

On December 9, 2010, George Russell Weller died only 2 days after his 94th birthday.

The number of Americans over the age of 70 is set to explode in coming years from 28.5 million in 2011 rising to 52.7 million in 2030, according to the U.S. Census.

References: http://www.santamonica.com/restaurants/santa-monica-farmers-market/

http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/West/07/16/farmers.market.crash/

http://www.foxnews.com/story/2003/07/17/car-plows-into-crowded-santa-monica-farmers-market.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Monica_Farmers_Market_crash

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/no-jail-for-elderly-driver-in-market-crash/

http://articles.latimes.com/2006/sep/26/local/me-weller26

http://www.autoblog.com/2013/07/15/tragic-crash-elderly-driver-laws/

Donna R. Gore

 

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Success and Trauma – Three Women in Space

 

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“If you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to help them build theirs.”  Dhirubhai Ambani

When we think of how far women have advanced there are several benchmarks – Women suffrage was the beginning ratifying the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution on August 18, 1920. There is also the overly generic 2014 data proclaiming that we as females still earn 79 cents compared to a male’s dollar, all other occupational circumstances being equal.

What escapes us is all the stuff in between which females often endure on the way to achieving success. When great success is achieved, often we are held up to impossible standards, models of society without infallibility or the high risk that tragedy can also befall us. Three such examples happen to be affiliated with the space program. This blog serves to summarize and illustrate that anything can happen no matter how much you achieve, so be humble, stay grounded, remember your roots, remain strong and always treat others well!

Christa McAuliffe- Educator – “First U.S .Teacher in Space” 

(Born September 2, 1948, –Died- January 28, 1986) was an American teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Christa McAuliffe

Christa McAuliffe

As an educator in high school, she became a social studies teacher, and taught several courses including American history, law, and economics, in addition to a self-designed course: “The American Woman Taking field trips and bringing in speakers were an important part of her teaching techniques. According to   a New York Times article, she “emphasized the impact of ordinary people on history, believing that “they were as important to the historical record as kings, politicians or generals.”

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan announced the Teacher in Space Project, NASA’s efforts to find the first civilian, an educator, to fly into space. Christa appeared to fit the qualifications as  a gifted teacher who could communicate with students while in orbit. In fact, she applied and rose to the top of the roster of more than 11,000 applicants.

The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident  known as the Rogers Commission investigated the disaster. It determined that the accident was due to a failure of rubber O-rings that provided a pressure seal in the aft field joint of the shuttle’s right solid rocket booster. The failure of the O-rings was attributed to a design flaw, as their performance could be too easily compromised by factors including low temperatures on the day of launch.

The low temperature at launch—36 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 degrees lower than the next coldest previous launch and the failure of the O-Ring was the mechanical reason for death. However, I have always felt that the person responsible for the decision to lift off despite the cold temperatures showed depraved indifference to life, put profits before safety and should have been prosecuted for mass murder!  Who can forget the pain of recognition on Christa’s mother’s face as her parents Grace and Ed Corrigan as well as children looked to the sky in horror with 7 lives “go up in a plume of smoke.”

YouTube   Live Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDRxK6cevqw;

I read this book years ago and highly recommend it-

http://www.amazon.com/Touch-Future-Story-Christa-McAuliffe/dp/0394557212

Sally Ride- First American Woman in Space

(Born May 26, 1951-, Died- on July 23, 2012 at age 61)

Sally Ride

Sally Ride

Sally Ride grew up in Los Angeles and went to Stanford University, where she was a double major in physics and English. She achieved a Ph.D. in Physics in 1978.  The timing was right for NASA, as they wanted to actively recruit scientists to perform experiments in space versus having a roster of female astronauts. In 1983, Los Angeles-based Ride became the First American Woman in Space” , aboard the space shuttle Challenger as a result of being the top candidate among 1,000 applicants   spot in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) astronaut program.

Sally was able to serve as a mission specialist, in June and October but as the third excursion was canceled due to the Challenger disaster in January 1986.

She had a partner, a woman named Tam O’Shaughnessy, even though the two women had been together for nearly 30 years. Even in 1983, Sally Ride was closeted from the public and good friend and reporter- author Lynne Sherr.

Ride served on the presidential commission that investigated the space shuttle explosion. In fact, she got access to the report about the malfunctioning O-ring on the Challenger and gave it to another member…and that’s how the truth came out!

Sally was a superstar college tennis player who chose physics over a sports career, and highly intelligent.  Sherr postulated that Sally’s ability to operate the Challenger’s robot arm and superior hand-eye coordination probably helped her beat out the other astronauts vying to be the first American women in space.  Sally also declined at least two opportunities under two Presidents to be a NASA Administrator.  And finally – Sally Ride coordinated a program in which middle school students could snap photos of the moon from NASA’s two GRAIL spacecraft. The site on the moon was named in her honor!

Tragically, Sally Ride died of pancreatic cancer in 2012.  As a group, pancreatic cancers come with a very low survival rate — 75 percent of patients die less than a year after diagnosis, and 94 percent die within five years, – cancer often escapes early detection because patients display few warning signs that anything is wrong. When patients do experience symptoms, they are often vague aches and pains, such as indigestion or back pain that can be attributed to other ailments. This cancer is very resistant to chemotherapy treatments. Such a huge loss for mankind! RIP, Sally!

Book by Journalist Lynn Sherr; “Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space”

https://www.amazon.com/Sally-Ride-Americas-First-Woman-ebook/dp/B00GEEB99W?ie=UTF8&ref_=dp_kinw_strp_1

Lisa Nowak:  A Woman with so much Promise – A Fall from Grace

Lisa Nowak

Lisa Nowak

(Born in May 1963) A Navel Flight Officer and Astronaut who succumbed to a love relationship that proved to be her downfall, leaving a permanent stain on the NASA program, but also in a strange way served to tighten up  screening procedures and attend to the stress and mental health needs of all NASA employees. She qualified as a mission specialist and flew in space in 2006, for 13 days.

Lisa was ‘dismissed”, not deceased. She lived in Washington DC, was married in 1988 to a classmate in the Naval Academy and Flight School. She and her husband Richard have three children. Working closely with colleague William Oefelein, they began an affair for ~ 2 years that escalated out of control when Mr. Oefelein attempted to break off the affair.  By all accounts, Lisa was a perfectionist, obsessed with her job, not attending to the stress that she was under. Her solace was an affair that could not continue. Oefelein had begun a relationship with an engineer, Coleen Shipman. Lisa would not take no for an answer, planned a long distance trip cross-country with survivalist equipment, in an effort to confront Ms. Shipman at the Orlando airport, on February 7, 2007. Lisa was distraught, demanded her attention   assaulting her with pepper spray. Ultimately, she was charged with attempted first-degree murder with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, and what amounted to stalking.

On the defense side, they claimed Lisa suffered from major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, insomnia, a “brief psychotic disorder” and Asperger’s Syndrome. With much legal back and forth, in the end, Lisa was sentenced to a year’s probation a two days previously served in jail. The Navy also ruled to offer an “other than honorable” discharge. She was successful in getting her record sealed for the sake of her future livelihood.  Let’s hope that she received a healthy dose of counseling and medication.

To get the “straight scoop” on this true account, I recommend Diane Fanning’s Book, “Out There”, years ago on an airplane. http://www.amazon.com/Out-There-Depth-Astronaut-Triangle/dp/0312949308

 “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas A. Edison

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christa_McAuliffe

http://www.biography.com/people/sally-ride-9458284#

https://www.washingtonpost.com/express/wp/2014/09/18/sally-ride-5-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-astronaut-based-on-a-new-biography-by-lynn-shear/

: http://www.livescience.com/21784-sally-ride-pancreatic-cancer.html#sthash.y0woAVrt.dpuf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_Nowak

Putting on the Band-Aid for Life  

 

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A colleague mentioned how trying it is to have to put a band-aid on “an ouchy” of a toddler where there was never a mark in the first place. When I thought about it, it seemed like this little gesture of compassion for the sake of a child could be a metaphor for life.

There are many types of people in the world. There are the drama queens – histrionic people with an over-exaggerated sense of everything in hopes of getting and keeping attention. There are the risk takers who truly live by the adrenaline pump with their behaviors – extreme sports, daredevil acts in hopes of achieving that ever higher goal “just because it’s there” as they clearly find everything else in life totally mundane. There are also those of us who by normal standards have been through hell and back and still function well because of an extraordinary amount of resilience.

Crime victims either excel at resilience with some practice or they bask in their victimhood and are never able to graduate to a new normal. I have written much on this topic in the past and at times, marvel at my ability to personally tolerate stuff that others could never approach. There is a danger in developing this sense of taking in the pain of others all the time. You can do so selectively and intensely feel that which you relate to best, or at the other extreme, become intolerant of the little annoyances of life that non-crime victims experience.

Do I really care that your computer crashed, that you can’t find your car keys, that your dog ate your new slippers? Not really. It is a sense of perspective and using your personal life experience as a yardstick. This can be dangerous, as a person who has experienced much trauma in life can be perceived as uncaring toward others. I have survived and succeeded because I try to concentrate on the big stuff. (and also have a sense of detail and organization to maintain control.) When the little stuff happens to me though, I am my own worst enemy with absolutely no patience.

I fear that there is a massive dumbing down taking place in our American culture in many aspects –an oversimplification of intellectual issues to find life more palatable.

As I write this, we have sustained yet another massive assault on human life in the Orlando tragedy that has many layers of the onion still to be analyzed.  It would be unfair of any of us to oversimplify. However, we all do it daily so that we might carry on.

The key to life is balance and respecting others.  I have to secretly remind myself sometimes that the fact that someone’s dog that ate the slippers is traumatic to them, if not to me. We have to give everyone his or her band-aid after all. Some of us wear big band-aids for life while others wear them temporarily.  However, as crime invades more and more of our lives, in a sad way, we are coming together with more in common every day.

I hope that if we are perpetually headed for the dark side, we can also relish the good and come together in solidarity.   All of us need to pay attention to the big and little traumas, while putting them in perspective for a healthier existence. And… just maybe the toddler with a non-existent trauma is smart…as he/she is getting prepared for life.

Making a Wind Chime from a Shattered Life

 

Kristen Dockendorff

Kristen Dockendorff

When a person is born into this world, they come with a pre-determined set of assets, talents, strengths and liabilities.  It is God’s making, (if you believe) who concocts the ingredients and it for man/woman to shape his/her own destiny based upon those qualities.  Talents and strengths often occur naturally and are easy to spot once the person is given the opportunity to shine. However, a God-given disability can become a liability or it can forge a new path, a new direction. Those of us who have a disability as defined medically can often get bogged down in labels, predictions, expectations or lack of expectation by others, political correctness and the like.  Like it or not, what we do in life is largely dependent upon us. Yes, it can be a cruel world out there, but it can also be glorious!  It is getting to the glorious that is the difficult part and trying to sustain and re-shape, re-invent that is so trying.

Such is the life of Kristen Dockendorff, born with a rare form of Retinitis Pigmentosa, A progressive genetic eye condition leading to legal blindness. (1 in 4,000 people) beginning in early childhood. Night vision and your peripheral vision may be affected first followed by loss of your central vision. However, despite this eye disease, a highly intelligent, talented and creative girl, persevered, and also compensated with an underlying learning disability –dyslexia (Characterized by difficulties with reading, spelling, word fluency and decoding information). She married, had children and spent several years enjoying family life.

The arts were a major strength and something she gravitated toward all of her life. She was a successful Master level Art teacher in the Ashford, CT school system for 32 years teaching such as forms as origami, painting, pottery making, native American art, to pre-kindergarteners through 8th grade. At some point in time, when her eye disease progressively got worse, relinquishing her driver’s license, depression set in, and a period alcohol abuse.  Her family life also suffered and she divorced.   She needed help in order to re-invent herself. She suffered the slings and arrows of trying to persevere in the classroom, outrageously assigned to recess and lunch duty by an uninformed staff, when she could not see her students. She was also provided a classroom assistant as an accommodation. But alas, this career had to end, to try to begin a new chapter of life.

Fast forward to July 2016. Kristen has been retired for two years and has relocated to a new home. She is hoping to formulate a new career path for sustained employment with the assistance of a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor at the Department of Rehabilitation Services- Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind in Connecticut- http://www.ct.gov/dors/site/default.asp.

(For Services within CT – 1-800-842-4510; 860-602-4000). Throughout her ordeal, BESB was a mainstay, providing her with a full complement of services.unnamed-1

A brand new addition to her life is her guide dog Emma , a true life partner, where they just received intensive training, and bonded as a family. Her training was provided by the oldest existing  guide dog school (since 1929,)  in Morristown, New Jersey – http://www.seeingeye.org.

Another relatively new venture that she has embraced is the sport of adaptive sailing.  To “put it all in perspective,” an artist (and musician) has to be creative when money is tight. Kristen recently recounted her inspiring journey on an episode of Shattered Lives Radio.  Part of forging a new path is finding ways to create her art from materials not purchased in a store. She travelled to the banks of the Housatonic River, in western CT only to find some durable reeds-cane in which to craft beautiful Native American style flutes, a good match to the art she creates on her potter’s wheel.  *** (Listen to podcast for a musical sample!). When asked what her message would be to listeners, she stated, “Be true to yourself.” Having a Shattered Life…or not is all about attitude and perspective. Kristen prefers to  “make a wind chime out of a once-shattered life.”

The best means of contacting Kristen is via email at kdockendorff@gmail.com.

If you are interested in purchasing her pottery or flutes you may view them on https://www.facebook.com/kristen.dockendorff

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