The 2009 Census Bureau tells us that there were 3,800 fatal car accidents committed by elderly drivers aged 65 to over 75 years…. In 1986, it took but one life, the precious life of Kim Griffin to shatter Denny and Faith Griffin’s world as they knew it… Life can change in just an instant!
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In Upstate New York, on August 5, 1986, while coming home from a “swimming hole” 40 miles away, (as innocent as a Mark Twain novel), Kim was a passenger in a car that went out of control after a 70 year old father, coming from the opposite direction unlawfully sped, appeared to panic upon seeing the other car at the crest of the hill – obviously was unable to anticipate change and respond safely. The driver slammed on the brakes, skid and hit their car. The car in which Kim was riding, went down an embankment. Kim as well as the perpetrator/driver of the other car was killed.
This is NOT a Denny Griffin fictionalized tale… It is real life and it is gruesome! Faith Griffin wanted to tell their story… even if it would help just one family…
Background and Family Life:
- Kim graduated high school in 1986 and was due to begin her college studies in September;
- Her intended major-career choice was to become a child psychologist;
- Kim was always helping others… In fact, she worked at a group home for children with special needs and dreamed of assisting them further as a professional; After her death, residents of the group home requested that their parents send $5.00 of their stipends and cards in memory of Kim…which deeply touched the Griffins;
- Kim loved her nieces and had a large group of friends whom she enjoyed spending time with;
- Kim would be visiting this campground 40 miles from home for the first time, based upon the recommendation of a friend. (We hope that Kim and her friends had the time of their lives during that fateful trip!)
- Kim had a sister, Pam, five years older who was “more like a mother figure” when it came to this tragedy, as Faith told us;
- Kim also had a brother, Rob, who was just 17 months apart in age…. As siblings will do, Rob and Kim fought the day of her death…. ‘Probably something insignificant for kids in high school. However, Rob carries the burden of that incident to this day…. He cannot bring himself to discuss it, nor can he visit his sister’s grave. Is it survivor’s guilt…or just the love of a brother who never got to say goodbye? We can only guess…and hope that someday… in his own time and way, Rob will forgive himself and be relieved of his sorrow;
- Denny and Faith grieved separately, each in their own ways. Faith needed to talk… Denny was the “take care of business” guy and organizer who withheld his feeling from his wife. Faith felt shut out and voiced her feelings and the cruel loss of her daughter as “unfair”; Up until that point, Denny stated he was two different people…. The cop who laughed at the dark humor so typical of his peer group, desperately trying to act “normal” and then the grieving father and husband;
- Denny replied, Who said life is fair?….. a turning point in their relationship and ability to cope . (Studies indicate that approximately 80-85% of couples who experience the death of a child ultimately divorce.);
- Faith spoke of the guilt felt when she might allow herself to have good time, along with the heavy heart she had for the loss of her daughter – a tormenting combination of emotions which were experienced for a long time… Faith went to see a professional bereavement counselor for over a year…in addition to her strong and abiding faith in God which ultimately saved her.
- Faith began a local support group for bereaved parents losing children, as another woman lost a child in a similar way just two weeks after Kim was killed. Although it benefitted others…. Faith bowed out, as the other woman was “angry with God” and that was in sharp contrast to the loving God Faith knew…. Instead, Faith turned her outreach to letter writing and sending Mass cards. Again, making a difference in other’s lives. Misery loves company. Faith instinctively knew that she had what it took to help others… thereby starting down the road to self-healing.
A Knock at the Door and the “Crime That Wasn’t Criminal”
- A Deputy Sheriff and a Village police Officer were at the door to deliver the death notification. Instinctively, Denny knew in his heart upon seeing them that this was not a social call….
- As the operator of the motor vehicle casing Kim’s death was also killed… there were no criminal charges….. No justice! No way to question the perpetrator. It was learned later that the father was speeding in order to make an appointment for his daughter. Ladyjustice says…. No excuse…. No comfort… No reason to speed…. Certainly not worth taking lives needlessly!
- No type of medication, alcohol or mind altering substance was found to be involved in the crash…. ‘Just a father in a hurry!
- Civil Action– Wrongful Death! There were four in the vehicle prior to it careening over the embankment. The car was owned by a local businessman who lent the car to his son. The INSURANCE HAD LAPSED…
- One day after the accident, the same business owner quickly transferred his house, bank accounts and other assets to another person for fear of a civil suit by the Griffins. THIS WAS THE LAST THING ON THEIR MINDS! They were actively grieving and could think of nothing else but their beautiful daughter! The Griffins hired an attorney and were able to cover basic expenses involved in Kim’s death from whatever assets were left;
Unconscionable Behavior by County Attorney–
The County attorney made it clear that this scenario was not a “get rich quick scheme” and that the Griffins were forewarned….. As Faith told it, the Attorney told them that as Kim had been a student, was not yet working and had no income, Kim had no worth!! (Legally speaking). However, picture yourself in Denny and Faith’s shoes, hearing such a blatant and insensitive remark….. Ladyjustice is sick at the thought of such terrible words by an obviously despicable man;
A Horrible Coincidence?
- Denny told of a circumstance in the death of his daughter that coincidentally was interwoven with an ongoing investigation of the local medical examiner from his book, http://www.amazon.com/The-Morgue-Dennis-N-Griffin/dp/1585000345 in which this same medical examiner was taking tissue samples from those deceased up to 18 years od age and selling the samples without consent for experimentation. Kim’s body was handled by this same medical examiner….She was, in fact, within the same age group with those whose tissue samples were unlawfully taken. However, much to his relief, Denny learned that Kim’s tissue had not ben confiscated….;
- The man who was driving the car that Kim was in, never came to the wake. The business owner never expressed any remorse or made any gestures to the Griffins during or after the death of their daughter. ..
- As a police officer, Denny was able to stay in contact with police officials in the county in question as a professional courtesy, but was never actively involved in the investigation. (Ladyjustice – How tormenting this must have been as a member of law enforcement!)
Accountability and Other Considerations
- Delilah brought up the issue of accountability… How do we deal with the situation when it is determined that criminality is not involved? How do we justify the loss? Who is held accountable? Do we deal with our pain inwardly and then at some point decide to reach out to others?
- Denny agreed that this is indeed a difficult issue…. However, those of us in the baby boomer generation and before, were brought up to believe that there is always someone else who has a larger burden than ours… who is worse off….
- Denny related this to the situation that he often encounters with crime victims featured on Crime wire, in which families often know the circumstances of their loved one’s murder…. But the evidence isn’t quite there for an arrest….. Or worse case scenario, the perpetrator is known and free to walk in the same community among the victims! Denny has tremendous empathy for those in such situations. He states he is more patient since Kim’s death and makes it a point to never leave an angry or conflicting situation unresolved….
- Dealing with “Friends” They may run away from you in the grocery store or at community events… They don’t know what to say… How to approach the situation? Ladyjustice has seen such behavior over and over as well…. As we are not trained to know how to deal with grief and major loss, many instinctively try to hide. Denny advises against this behavior, as it will eventually “rear it’s ugly head” and the neighbors will have to confront it sooner or later…
- “If the shoe is on the other foot”, Faith advises that there is always something you can do to demonstrate that you care – And… don’t be afraid to show your feelings when faced by death. When you know you’re in pain, she highly recommends going to a bereavement therapist.
- And… about that nickname “Bear”….She got it when Denny and she were courting. She was married previously and had three hungry children to feed, so the “Mama Bear” went without…. In addition, she wore a fur coat that was too big for her to which Denny remarked, “You look just like a Bear”. The nickname stuck.
Please visit Denny’s website, read/listen to his radio shows at www.dennisngriffin.com . His eleven books are available for purchase at Amazon.com as well as some selectively on Kindle.
- Shattered Lives: Dennis and Faith Griffin: How Life Changes in an Instant (imaginepublicity.com)
- Dennis Griffin Invited to Grand Opening of The Mob Museum Las Vegas (dennisngriffin.com)
- Author Denny Griffin’s Latest Whereabouts (desertmusepublishing.wordpress.com)
- Dennis Griffin Panelist on “Aspects of Writing” on KLAV Radio Monday (imaginepublicity.com)