In 1995, after camping at a Texas State Park, I was driving my new wife and two good friends on a perfectly groomed county highway to Pedernales Falls outside of Austin. Sun shone brightly on this early Sunday morning as we cruised along the divided highway uninterrupted by intersections and other cars. Then, without previous warning, we entered a four-way intersection passing a stop sign. Quickly, I looked for other cars and realized a small pickup truck entering the same intersection from my left. I swerved my Audi A4 just enough to avoid direct impact, but the truck caught my left side near the passenger door at an angle. That window exploded sending safety glass all over the left passenger, which I initially mistook for her teeth. Fortunately, no one suffered any injury. Fortunately as well, neither did the driver and his older child in the truck. Although the driver of the truck later complained of a knee injury, we considered ourselves very fortunate to all “walk away”.
I deservedly received a citation for running a stop sign, which I did not see till I entered the intersection. The roads continuity and isolation had lulled me into a false sense of security having driven a few miles without any intersections, off ramps, or warning signs. As the police and EMS technicians arrived, many mentioned the frequency of accidents at this particular intersection. The lack of a four -way stop, freeway-like road environment, and pre-intersection warning all contributed to the high number of accidents.
About six weeks later, as my wife and I watched a Houston station’s 10 p.m. news, shivers shook my spine as we watched the lead story concerning six young church members killed when their church van ran the exact same stop sign and collided with another vehicle. The reporter went on to discuss the high rate of accidents at this intersection and that the community had been asking the county for years to do more to protect drivers such as installing traffic lights and providing more advance notice of the intersection.
Today I read about the recent drowning deaths of 9 year-old twin girls and their father. Several Suarez family members visited the Texas City Dike Sunday morning. As the parents unloaded the car, the twins headed straight for the water. Frighteningly, the water’s current almost immediately pulled the girls under. Hector Suarez quickly jumped in to save his daughters, followed by other family members. Despite these best efforts, the children drowned and Hector lingered in a hospital for four days till he succumbed to his injuries.
Like the intersection, no beach signs noted the water’s known potential danger. When asked about placing such signs, Texas City Mayor Matthew Doyle agreed to consider warning signs that would read something like “Swim at your own risk.” The Mayor also told reporter for the Houston Chronicle that, “It’s hard to start sticking signs up and down everywhere you go. I don’t think signs would have changed a thing. We’re supposed to be responsible for ourselves, and we need to be very careful when we do any sports.”
Agreed; we must accept responsible for our own safety. I could have paid closer attention to potential intersections and the Suarez’ could have stopped their daughters from running into the water ahead of them.
Nonetheless, I drove on a county road and the Suarez’ swam at a city park which requires $5 for admission. Further, repeated accidents revealed a significant problem with traffic and, as indicated by warning signs at the nearby marina, the authorities knew of the strong currents at the beach. Yet, the public officials in both cases failed to install relatively inexpensive safety improvements. To make matters worse, Texas City’s mayor remains not only defiant, but ignorant of his constituent’s safety.
These incidences bear witness to the impact our elected officials have upon our daily lives. Our mayors, County Supervisors, Governors and the like are not responsible for every person’s behavior. But, we elect them to make reasonable decisions to protect the public based on information known or easily attainable. In both these cases, the officials failed to satisfy the base requirements for their duly elected positions.
Who we elect to public office has consequences. It may be a matter of garbage pickup, taxes, health care, education or defense of our nation and it’s sometimes a matter of the life or death of those we love. As November 2nd approaches, let’s try to keep that in mind.