Schmidt family tragedy

Broderick Photography

Broderick Photography

UPDATE 8/9: So it seems this little post sort of went viral? I sure wasn't expecting that. Thank you to all who have taken the time to read, post it on Facebook, "liked" it or "Pin-ed" it. It's overwhelming.

As of this writing, the most recent development in this case is that Will County prosecutors dismissed the at-fault driver's traffic citation, reportedly to avoid double jeopardy issues in anticipation of more serious charges.

On this website and elsewhere, many expressed anger at authorities and the news media for not releasing the driver's name or quickly filing charges, accusing them of protecting the driver. Late last week the driver's name was revealed on several news sites, but I'm still not going to print his name here because my purpose in the original post was never to "go after" one particular person, contrary to what some readers accused me of.

There are certain known facts in this case from which we can deduce other likely facts. They shouldn't need to be spelled out but apparently they do. The massive damage to both vehicles and the fact that the impact was so powerful it pushed them both into a field indicates a high rate of speed and little or no attempt to brake. This was either extreme distraction or excessive speeding combined with major brake failure. Authorities said they were investigating the driver's cell phone records, indicating they considered texting a strong possibility.

The youth of the driver makes an unforeseeable medical event like a stroke unlikely. If it was mechanical failure, it probably would have been reported by now. Those are the only innocent scenarios.

There was never a question this driver was at fault, it's only the nature of that fault that remains unknown. Going just by the known facts, the likelihood that he is not egregiously at fault is slim, but still possible like anything is possible.

It's possible no charges will ever be filed, or a plea deal will be reached as often happens in these cases. We may never know the full truth. Still, something can be a jumping-off point to start a conversation and make people think about an issue. It doesn't need to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt the driver was texting in order to discuss the dangers of texting. It's still a real problem that kills a lot of people.

That said, I realized several days after publishing this post that my original headline unintentionally gave the impression that texting was conclusive in this particular case. So I edited the headline so it reads only "Schmidt Family Tragedy." That was careless on my part.

But it's important to point out that blogging isn't supposed to be objective journalism. Most bloggers are ordinary people, not news reporters. People who write about their thoughts, feelings and opinions. If you expect everything you read to adhere to the standards of a hard-news story in a newspaper, then just read that.

More to the point, if you expect me to apologize for expressing outrage over the senseless and completely avoidable massacre of a mother and three children, you will wait until Hell freezes over to get that apology.

I find it curious that some express more offense on behalf of the at-fault driver than on behalf of the grieving husband/father and dead family. Bending over backwards to make apologies and excuses.  Why is a two-ton vehicle seen as an acceptable murder weapon?

I see many apologist comments on the Internet that parrot each other: "This guy will have to live with this the rest of his life," etc.  So? That's the same excuse people used to make for drunk drivers:  "Just the knowledge they killed someone is punishment enough, there's no reason to lock them up." Then they would turn around and drive drunk again, sometimes causing more deaths. Or in the case of plain reckless driving and speeding, they would go out and do that again.

No, there have to be real, tangible consequences apart from some psychological effect. It wasn't until there were such consequences for DUI that those incidents went down; once people faced the real threat of losing their license or being jailed, it changed their behavior.

Psychological consequences are separate from the criminal justice system. So what if he'll have it on his "conscience" the rest of his life? Except in the unlikely but possible event that it turns out to be an innocent scenario as described above, he should still spend a number of years of that life behind bars. And that holds true whether it was texting, speeding, ignoring signs, impaired driving, simple carelessness, etc.

A two-ton vehicle in irresponsible hands is a murder weapon. When operating one, especially a mammoth pickup truck that can do massive damage, you have a responsibility to others on the roads to obey the rules of the road. And if you don't and that results in serious injury or death, you should do jail time. If nothing else, it makes the roads a little safer for the rest of us during that period  you are locked up.

(Even given the widespread publicity and public outrage this case has generated, it's unlikely the at-fault driver would do a significant amount of prison time anyway, even if they can make charges stick. The sentences in Illinois for reckless homicide are fairly light, and inmates only serve half their sentence with day-for-day "good time.")

A word about comments: Comments are moderated. Comments that are disrespectful or abusive will not be posted. Comments that recite empty platitudes like "He'll have to live with this for the rest of his life" or "Anger won't bring the victims back" will not be posted. Comments that accuse me of exploiting the tragedy will not be posted. If it was a shooting death, would you accuse someone of exploiting the tragedy? Why is it different when the murder weapon is a vehicle?

Following is a condensed version of the original post published on July 29:

From time to time, something appears in the news that is so unspeakably horrific and tragic that it puts all of your own little problems into stark perspective. What happened to the Schmidt family in Beecher, Illinois, last Monday is one of those stories.

By now most people who have been keeping up with local news are aware of the living nightmare this family is going through. Lindsey Schmidt, 29 years old and pregnant, was driving her three young sons to camp when their Subaru was rammed by a pickup truck that blew a stop sign, killing her and one-year-old Kaleb instantly. Four-year-old Weston died Tuesday at the hospital and six-year-old Owen died Thursday morning.

Lindsey and her family were active in their church and the small, tight-knit community. Today a young father, Edward Schmidt, is mourning the loss of his wife and all of his children. He will likely never be whole again.

It was reported that the 25-year-old unnamed male driver, who only had minor injuries, may have been texting at the time of the crash, although as of this writing no charges have been filed. But whether he was texting or just speeding, he ran through a stop sign and in an instant, destroyed an entire family.

I wonder when I hear stories like this, where is it people are going that is so important it’s worth dying for, or taking the lives of innocent parties? What is the hurry?

I think there are few among us who have not known someone or known of someone who lost their lives to a reckless or drunk driver.

The driving and texting thing is beyond the pale. When they passed a law against it I thought, really, isn’t this a no-brainer? How can you keep your eyes on your phone screen and on the road at the same time?

Here are some of the scary and sobering statistics:

  • People who drive while sending or reading text messages are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash than other drivers.
  • Texting while driving is now the top cause of death among teenagers.
  • In March 2017, 13 people were killed in Texas when a texting truck driver slammed into their church bus.
  • In 2008, a train derailment killed 25 people in California because the train engineer was texting.
  • Car and Driver magazine conducted a 2010 study that concluded texting while driving is more dangerous than driving intoxicated.

Most states prohibit drivers from texting, including Illinois, where the fine for a first offense is $75, on the low end compared with other states.  By way of comparison, the fine for parking in a handicapped parking space is about $200. Technology is being developed to enable law enforcement to detect texting by drivers, but it remains a serious problem.

But cold statistics don't move us the way a photograph does.

It may be hard for younger people to believe there was a time in America when driving drunk carried no stigma and few penalties. Before the mid-1980s, it was not taken seriously by the law. Someone who caused an accident, even a fatal accident, driving drunk usually received a slap on the wrist. It was called a socially acceptable form of murder. I know firsthand because I lost a high school friend to a drunk driver.

Then a small grassroots organization changed all that—Mothers Against Drunk Driving. MADD is virtually single-handedly responsible for forcing lawmakers to take the carnage from drunk driving seriously, promoting anti-DUI education and dramatically reducing the number of alcohol-related traffic deaths. There is now a considerable social stigma associated with driving drunk and tougher penalties for DUI in almost every state.

Driving while texting is to the 21st century what driving drunk was before circa-1985. It’s socially accepted, if technically illegal. But its victims are no less dead, survivors' lives no less torn apart.

It is time that texting while driving is subject to the same stigma and penalties as DUI. It’s the only thing that will deter it. It is time to get serious.

The next time you're tempted to read or send a text in the car, or engage in any distracted driving, think of the photograph above.

This insanity has got to stop. Now.

Donations to help the Schmidt family can be mailed to The Schmidt Family Fund, PO Box 457, Beecher, IL 60401. Trinity Lutheran Church is accepting online donations through its website.

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