By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It was early Saturday evening when I first caught a moment of the accident flashing across the television screen at my mom‘s home, where I’d stopped by to help her move some furniture.
I recall hearing something about a teenager losing control of a sports utility vehicle and slamming into pedestrians near an elementary school in Pasadena. I can‘t remember now if I even thought anything past ”What a bummer.“ As eyewitnesses described the carnage, I hurried to finish helping Mom and get up to the gym.
A former crime reporter who covered southeast Los Angeles County for years, I had long since chosen to zone out the nightly body counts that pass for lead stories in the L.A. broadcast market these days. Having grown tired of covering human suffering firsthand, I grew tired of hearing relentlessly about it secondhand as well. I figured I just didn’t care anymore, that it didn‘t matter anyway. Perhaps that was a mistake.
Stuck in Monday-morning traffic on the Foothill Freeway, I heard my pager buzz. The message on the small quartz display screen hardly seemed ominous. ”Call Ross at Casa Colina.“
Ah, a buddy of mine was ringing me up. Unusually early, but whatever. A few minutes later, my pager buzzed again. ”Ross is waiting for your call.“
Hmmmmm. Wonder what’s up?
I was pulling into work when I got his third page, noting that he would ”stay at his desk“ until I called. Now alarm bells started going off in my head as I looked for a phone. Three consecutive pages in less than a half-hour from an old friend I have lately been talking to every few months suddenly had bad news written all over it.
As I dialed the number, I tried to restrain the thought that one among our circle of friends was either dead or dying. Maybe he just wanted me to tune in to a particularly wicked Howard Stern or Mark & Brian riff that was in progress. Maybe he‘d just won the lottery and we were all going to Hawaii. Maybe anything but that call none of us want to get.
Three words were all it took.
”Have you heard?“ he asked.
No, but I was about to. His tone was unmistakable. It reeked of death. ”You haven’t heard about Sarah and Howard?“
I paused. Sarah and Howard Karesh? On the short list I had quickly compiled in the back of my mind of friends I should be worried about, they had not made the cut. Two people I had known since our days at Emerson Junior High School in Pomona in the 1970s, they were busy living the quintessential suburban life, raising two kids in a big old Victorian in Pasadena. While I still have a few friends living -- and even dancing -- on the proverbial edge, Howard and Sarah were nowhere near it. They had grown up and settled down.
”Sarah‘s dead. So is Madison. They were run over by that kid in the SUV. Howard was hit too,“ Ross said. ”It’s been all over the news. It‘s in the paper.“
I wasn’t sure what to say. It just didn‘t seem to register for a few moments. I think I may have mumbled one of those standard default phrases you go to when your mind blanks and the autopilot kicks in, like ”Oh no, you’re kidding“ -- as if he possibly could have been.
But then what do you say when death comes roaring out of safe abstraction to claim the lives of a friend‘s wife and their 4-year-old daughter as they walked to a fair at the Chandler School one perfect Saturday afternoon? What do you say as you’re forced to ponder your friend lying on the ground, injured himself, his family snatched from him without warning or reason in but a few horrific seconds?
What is there to say? To do? To even think? I hung up the phone and searched around the office for a copy of Sunday‘s Los Angeles Times, as if seeing it in print might somehow burn some clarity through the gauze of numb disbelief that had settled across my mind and soul.
There it was on the front page of the Metro section. I re-read the second paragraph several times: ”The victims were identified as . . .“
The story was a typical newspaper account of a human tragedy that managed to resonate above the base-line level of chaos for a few moments, if only perhaps because of the seeming senselessness of it. In a culture that demands a motive, reason or cause for everything -- one that seeks to install a black box into every aspect of our lives so that in our death the living may be graced with exactly how and why we died -- this tragedy could not be so easily accounted for.
The Times story offered a cursory view of the facts: direction and description of the vehicle, some eyewitness accounts, the perfunctory quote of ”nothing bad has ever happened [here]“ and a map detailing the accident location.