Despite the enormity of its impact and the depth of its seriousness, the Farmers’ Market tragedy defied commentary. Now that a verdict has been rendered, I am pulled to write about it and yet certain that I am powerless to bring any new light to this dark chapter for our city.
Often, columnists expand on a tragedy by offering some new angle or some set of humanizing details that the reporting of an event has not included. Here, the brutal facts of the incident are not perhaps all you need to know, but they are painfully clear and complete in their terribleness.
So one then considers writing about justice and the right thing to be done. But even though a verdict has been rendered and sentencing will follow, looking for justice in this tragedy is like looking into the very nature of life itself. Coincidence and circumstance played roles seemingly as crucial as whatever it was precisely that happened inside Mr. Weller’s car on July 16, 2003. His negligence that day might just as easily have resulted in a collision with a delivery truck, and lives would have been saved. Instead, it went another way.
A law professor commenting in the LA Times explained that the jury, being human, had trouble finding a non-criminal explanation for what happened: Because something very bad happened, there had to be a reason. That reality of human perception has been with the Farmers’ Market tragedy since it occurred, and it has haunted all of us in one form or another. The word “accident” was so incomplete in describing what happened that our minds kept pressing for some other, larger thing.
And at the same time, maybe to our chagrin, we bonded with the aged driver. Certainly there are some who, upon learning of Weller’s advanced age, wondered if something like this couldn’t happen to a parent or relative. Or to themselves.
There is an unprecedented population bubble headed towards old age, and those inside of it are all going to be envelope pushers. But regardless how active your retirement is, the licensing of drivers of two-ton motor vehicles that accelerate rapidly and have the potential to do what Weller’s vehicle did must be enforced with laws that keep “pedal error” from ever rendering this much heartbreak again. Weller was 86 at the time of the event. With your workouts and your vitamins and your proper diet, will you quietly comply with handing over the keys once we’ve established the age limit on driving?
Negligence is hardly the exclusive province of the aged, yet the Farmers’ Market tragedy clearly points to a series of lapses in judgment that could only have been exacerbated by Weller’s advanced age. At a certain point the body and mind become obstacles to clarity rather than helpful tools. Those that know this is happening to them are often loath to admit it.
More than how to age gracefully, an entire generation may have to learn how to surrender gracefully. I’m going to be 53 years old this year and I’ll commit to paper right now the hope that someone please revoke my driver’s license before I am in any way capable of confusing the gas and the brakes. To borrow from the shoe people, just do it.
Having advocated one small course of action, I’m still left with my powerlessness to express anything helpful regarding George Weller or justice for his victims or bringing peace to the survivors. Prison and money settlements won’t bring back lost lives, but we’ll pursue those because we lack other tools. Then, when the time comes years from now, perhaps the memory of what has happened will give us the humility to surrender our car keys.