Thursday, September 4, 2014

Avoidable Tragedy the Worst Kind

In a perfect world, Derek Flemming would have been able to march up to the driver of a car that cut him off, express some anger, and get back into his own vehicle---without fear of losing his life.

The 43 year-old husband and father of two young children would have vented his anger and frustration and still lived to re-tell the story to friends, co-workers and family at every opportunity.

We do that a lot, you know---turn storyteller when we are wronged, whether it's from poor service at a restaurant to being incredulous at a retailer's return policy, among other things.

But then we get it out of our system and we move on, until someone else relates a story that fires your mental file cabinet into gear and your story gets retold yet again.

But Flemming paid the ultimate price in an act that unfortunately will have people---like yours truly---getting into "blame the victim" mode.

Flemming was gunned down at a traffic light near Howell after he allegedly complained to a driver who cut him off in traffic and who was---again, allegedly---driving recklessly. The 69 year-old man had stopped in front of Flemming's vehicle at the light. Flemming exited his vehicle and said something like, according to his wife, who was in the car with her husband, "What's your problem?"

Then Flemming was shot dead by the older driver.

I know we don't live in a perfect world. If we did, my knee jerk reaction wouldn't have been (as it was when I read of the tragic story), "Ooh...you shouldn't have gotten out of your car."

We have all been cut off in traffic. We have all been frustrated by rudeness in public. And we have all fantasized about what we would like to have done or said, if only we had thought about those reactions at the time.

You have no idea how many fictional, imagined conversations or actions I have wistfully thought of in my head in response to surliness, idiocy and the like. Usually I think of those responses when it's way too late.

Maybe that's a good thing.

Certainly Flemming, who was on his way to pick up his kids after their first day of school, would have made it to his children and would have had dinner with them that night, if he had only checked himself before exiting his vehicle.

You can call that blaming the victim all you like. You can say that a man should be able to stand up for himself. You can say that rude, reckless drivers deserve to be confronted.

You can say that Derek Flemming shouldn't have been expecting the confronted driver to have a gun so readily available and with the demented mindset to use it at a drop of a hat.

All true.

But would you rather be right, confrontational and dead, or grumble to yourself---and your wife---and live?


People gather near the area where Derek Flemming was gunned down on Tuesday

It's sad that this is the subconscious choice that we are now forced to make in this dangerous, violent world. Maybe it's not so subconscious.

So the rude and the reckless and the surly get a free pass? Not necessarily. There are other ways to throw the karma back into their court.

In Flemming's case, there is a device called a cell phone. And it accepts emergency numbers.

I walk our dog every evening and in the 10 years that I have been doing so, I have called the police some six or seven times. The reasons range from chickens appearing at a strip mall (true story) to a drunk man passed out on a sidewalk to high suspicions of domestic violence taking place at a private residence.

I call the authorities, calmly describe the situation and let the cops do their thing.

And I live to tell about it, which I have, several times.

Should Derek Flemming have gotten out of his vehicle and confronted a dangerous, reckless, rude driver? Or should he have dialed 911 and reported the reckless driver? Flemming was situated behind the older man, so a license plate number could have easily been reported as well.

This isn't second-guessing. It's not a case of hindsight being 20/20.

We live in a world where people simply aren't to be trifled with on many occasions. No one knows who's packing heat these days. Worse, no one knows the mental stability of those who are armed.

Did the 69 year-old driver feel threatened by the unarmed Flemming, who approached the older man's vehicle clearly in anger, according to witnesses?

Playing Devil's Advocate, you can say that the older man didn't know if Flemming was armed or not. Just because Flemming didn't approach with a gun drawn doesn't mean he wasn't carrying concealed.

Maybe the older driver panicked.

Regardless, Derek Flemming is dead. And he doesn't have to be.

His epitaph, of course, ought not to read "He shouldn't have gotten out of his car." Flemming was a husband and a dad, and the owner of his own landscaping business. He was much more than a man who made a split-second decision that ultimately cost him his life.

As if we need yet another reminder that things are rough out there.

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