Monday, January 13, 2014

Too Close to Home

It's a retort that people offer when defending dangerous behavior, or making an argument to seize the day: "well, you can die crossing the street". But we don't actually expect it to happen. Not here in NYC, a place where pedestrians are everywhere, and motorists are trained (one hopes) to look out for them. No one should have to worry about dying while doing something we all do--by necessity--dozens of times each day.

For one nine-year-old named Cooper Stock, who lived just blocks from us, life ended steps from his own front stoop this past weekend. Crossing the street with his father Friday evening, Cooper was run over by a taxi and killed. 

Hearing this unspeakable news shook me. An acquaintance lives on that corner and heard the father's loud, terrible screams. Three blocks away, I didn't hear the father's screams myself. But I could feel his pain nonetheless. I can't imagine. And yet I do. Yes, there are tragedies that take place every day, in places far and near. But this is our home. 

Crossing the street with children is one of those things that city parents learn to manage from day one. Even pushing a stroller makes the experience different: you can't poke your head out into the street to see if a car is coming when your stroller is out in front of you. As with many aspects of going places with a baby, you relax your timetable and learn to be more patient. You also learn to be defensive when necessary: you stare down the aggressive taxi driver who is inching out into the crosswalk. You teach your children, as soon as they can walk, the meaning of the "walking man" and the "stop hand". You tell them they must hold your hand in the street. Then, you teach them how to cross themselves: watch the lights and the traffic, don't run, be aware.

I have to say that I felt a sick relief when I learned that Cooper Stock was crossing with his dad. That's because had he been alone, there would be some who would automatically blame the child, and assume that it was his inexperience that allowed the terrible accident to occur. And then, by extension, there would be a clamp-down effect, where parents would be discouraged from trusting their kids to cross the street. I still believe that many 9-year-olds, including my own, are capable of crossing the street on their own. If anything, this accident reminds us that we can't protect our children from the roll of the dice that is life. 

No one should have to worry about dying from crossing the street. Saying that makes it sounds like I'm angry at someone--that there is some systemic failing at fault. But, while I support recent efforts to slow down traffic in this city to protect pedestrians, it's unclear whether such efforts would have saved this boy. The taxi driver, no doubt, was negligent. He wasn't looking; he didn't see them. Perhaps he was in a rush, thinking of something else. He did not flee the scene; reports say he was in shock.

 How terrible. Life is fragile. Life can end as oddly and unexpectedly as it sometimes begins.

Today I'm crying for Cooper, a local third grader whom I didn't know, and hoping his family can come to terms, one day, with their loss. 


  1. It's really hard for me not to be knee-jerk about this and be furious that the taxi driver who killed him got a "summons for failure to yield," but I think that's just so I can detract myself from the awfulness.

    1. I agree...I read somewhere recently that motorists are rarely punished for the deaths of pedestrians and bicyclists.

  2. This is heartbreaking. I can't begin to imagine what the family of this child is going through.
    In response to Rachel ' s comment about motorists rarely being punished for the deaths of pedestrians I have to mention (and this has NOTHING to do with the story of the boy who was killed) that as a NYC driver, I have seen firsthand how pedestrians themselves can also be reckless. My biggest fear is hitting someone with my car and I am highly vigilant when I drive and I have seen some real idiots risk their lives by doing stupid things (crossing the street in the middle of a road and not the crosswalk, crossing when they have a red light while wearing headphones, going at a snail's pace and not even looking to see if a car is coming, etc.). I am sure that some cases of pedestrians being hit by cars are the result of negligent maneuvering by pedestrians, and while it's a tragedy for the pedestrian when such a thing happens, it's also a tragedy for the conscientious driver who does everything right yet has to suffer psychologically for the rest of his life for hitting someone who came out of nowhere and caused the accident. While most accidents are probably caused by careless drivers (and a driver in a car is going to do much more damage to a pedestrian than the other way around), we should all make sure to hold up our end of the bargain as pedestrians, as well.

    1. Amy, you are absolutely right. Pedestrians and cyclists take their lives into their own hands every day. I've also thought how these accidents make me worry about, one day, teaching my kids to drive (!). Cars can be weapons, and we all need to have a healthy respect for them.

  3. Exactly - both drivers and pedestrians need to be defensive and vigilant operators on the road.


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