I’ve been debating about how (and if) I should write this blog post for quite some time.
On the one hand, I feel that the story is truly powerful, and allows us to learn. On the other hand, I don’t feel it’s my place to tell others how to live, and I truly hate write anything that would come off as heavy-handedly judgemental.
Not to mention, that on this holiday weekend, I’m sure most of you would like to think happy thoughts and not be weighed down by negative things.
Finally, I decided to just do this, because as I was driving recently, and I saw an accident.
As you may have surmised, that’s sort of what I want to talk to you about.
Half a dozen years ago, there was a tragedy on Long Island that shook me–and most others–profoundly.
On July 1st, 2005, the Flynn family of Long Beach, NY attended a wedding reception in the village of Bayville; strangely, at the same reception hall where I celebrated my senior prom. Neil and Jennifer Flynn and their daughters Grace and Katie, piled into a limo alongside Jennifers parents, bound for home.
They didn’t make it.
Just about 20 minutes into a 40 minute ride, Martin Heidgen–a very drunk 25 year old from nearby Valley Stream–was driving the wrong way down the Meadowbrook Parkway and ran his truck headlong into the the Flynn’s limousine. The limo driver, Stanely Rabinowitz, is killed instantly.
As the Flynns scrambled inside of the wreckage and attempted to find each other, their disorientation began to fade, and they realized the horrible truth of what had happened.
When the firefighters, paramedics, and police finally arrived and began to tear into the wreck to pull out survirors, they found Jennifer on the side of the road, cradling the decapitated body of her eldest child, 7-year-old Katie Flynn.
Katie and Rabinowitz were the only fatalities, but no one escaped unscathed.
No one, that is, except Martin Heidgen, who, according to most reports, is completely unharmed. When tested, his BAC is .28, over 3 times the legal limit.
At the trial (just about one year later), he is found guilty of murder.
Perhaps most disturbing is the heartbreaking irony that earlier in the evening, Katie Flynn told her father, “this is the best day of my life.”
A few years after the accident, my favorite band, Brand New, wrote a song about the accident. Brand New is from Long Island, and as I said the events hit everyone hard. I’m not sure if any of the members of the band knew Katie or her family, but the song captures the raw emotions I felt when this all happened.
The song is called Limousine, and a very poignant and powerful video was made laying the song over the story of the accident. I thought I’d post it here, because it’s worth watching.
Now, of course, this might not be your type of music, but I hope you can appreciate the message of both the lyrics and the video.
As I mentioned earlier, this event rocked the foundations of Long Island communities. While the area in general is no stranger to vehicular deaths, there was something completely unsettling about this particular tragedy.
I should mention here that I did not know the Flynns. I was not related to them, nor were they family friends or even friends of friends. They are just a family that lives about 30 minutes from where I grew up–in that strange, sad and nostalgic way that nearly everything on Long Island is about 30 minutes from everything else.
And although I did know the family, I don’t mind telling you that I was moved to tears. And I was not alone.
Why, you might ask, did the event weigh so heavily on me, and on the community?
Perhaps it was the fact that Katie was so young. Perhaps it was the grisly nature of her death. Certainly, on a personal level, both of those things were factors. But for me, things went deeper.
You see, at the time, I was about 23–just a bit younger than Martin Heidgen. And while I was certainly not making excuses for him, I remember that when I saw him on TV, I just kept thinking, “he’s just a kid…a stupid, drunken, foolish kid.”
And, having to spend time in the company of my friends (most of whom, being 21-23, were stupid, drunken, foolish kids), seemed unsettling. I began to wonder which of them might be foolhardy enough to make a mistake like that. Who could go from a stupid kid to a murderer?
A few years back, my sister, was in a horrendous car accident–she was in a medically induced coma for about 3 weeks, and underwent a number of procedures including a craniotomy (during which a section of the skull is removed and stored in the abdominal cavity, to allow room for the inevitable brain swelling).
Thankfully, my sister survived; unfortunately, she suffered some significant brain damage. While she’s very high functioning–especially relative to the initial stages of her recovery–she stll has a lot of trouble with a number of things (even some simple tasks), and will never be the same.
And so, given all of that, you can perhaps see why the accident, and Katie’s death unbalanced me so very much.
Every year on this day, I think about Katie. I think about her family. I think about my sister’s life, and how it might have been different. I think about my mother crying in the hospital. And I think about Martin Heidgen, tormented by shame and regret, eternally damned by his conscience, consigned forever to a jail cell by a stupid mistake.
I think about all of this…and finally, I decided to let you guys know about it, for one simple reason.
Please, please, please. Look, I know that I’m not your father, or your big brother, or your keeper. I know that. Really, I’m just a guy whose blog you read for fitness information; however, I would like to think that on some level, you consider me your friend–because I really do care about you, and I care about what happens to you and the people around you.
Which means that while I KNOW this is a Holiday Weekend (Canada Day and Independence Day in the US), and I know that means BBQs and parites, and yes, probably some drinking.
And you’re entitled to have fun–we all are. But you’re not entitled to be reckless. No one has that right. If you’re going to drive, don’t drink. If you’re going to drink, don’t drive. If you can’t spend $30 bucks on cab fair, please consider the cost of hiring a lawyer for a murder trial. If that doesn’t stop you cold, please think about my sister. Please think about Katie.
We all feel the horror when we hear about something like what I described, but we soon discard that feeling and move on to happier thoughts; and as I said, I do not want to ruin your weekend with such weighty considerations.
Be responsible. Be careful. Take care of yourself–and others.
I didn’t bust my ass helping you develop a kick-ass body so you could waste it in a car crash. So if you DO get wasted, do the responsible (?) thing and just sleep with someone so you don’t have to drive home. Or, call a friend for a ride. Or your parents.
Comments for This Entry
ShannonMy cousin, Katie Flynn was a loving girl. She always knew how to light up a room, although I'm two years younger than her, I remember how she would be so kind, sweet and fun, and angelic to all of her family. She would always wanna give her clothes to me no matter how much her Aunt Jen protested. Martin Heidgen, in jail sends letters to his friends stating that when he's out of prison he will 'get wasted' and party. He is NOT sorry for all of the pain he has put our family through. Katie did NOT deserve to be murdered nor did Mr.Rabinowitz. Martin deserves to rot in jail. He is the scum on the bottom of the earth. Martin should rot in jail, because no one can ever get Katie back.
February 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm
Mel CapornI remember seeing that story on Oprah & bawling my eyes out. As a parent myself, the thought of cradling my child"s head just left me in utter despair. Every time I hear a parent complain about there child & how hard a time they are having, I tell them that story and how this family wishes they had these issues with their daughter. I feel myself very lucky and blessed to have my two boys. And any issues I have with them, I'm glad to have! :) I also feel for you about your Sister John. My husbands brother went through a similar accident when he was young. He got hit by a car and knocked off his bike. Was in a coma for 4 weeks & semi coma for 12 weeks, had to learn to walk, talk etc all over again. He too is high functioning & lives on his own but like you say, has issues on a number of thing & will never be the same. I feel for you & wish you and your family a great 2013. xoxoxoxo
December 31, 2012 at 10:50 pm
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December 20, 2012 at 2:55 am
JulianHonest, sincere and from the heart. Great post Roman!
July 5, 2012 at 9:07 pm
Dennis HaldaneRoman, that really hit home for me - as of the 23rd of this month I will celebrate 16 months of sobriety - after 42 YEARS of consumption - just 3 weeks shy of my 59th birthday - I could have easily been that wrong-way driver, many times - I was very fortunate to not have taken out anyone in all that time - the night of 3/23/11, I finally realized that I had a real problem, and dealt with it - there was just enough rational brain left to overcome the alcoholic brain, and I thank my lucky stars that I was able to 'turn the ship around', before the inevitable plowing into the rocky shore, as it were - and on that day, I also was able to get a handle on the nutritional aspect of things, foregoing processed foods, 'happy hour' meals, sugar and the like - as a result of all this, I have lost 50 lb. of excess weight, thanks to your program, and others on the web - I feel much better now, and look forward to the rest of my life, sober and in better health - thanks for listening.
July 5, 2012 at 6:12 am
Stacy HallI almost forgot, happy holiday's to you! Be safe yourself my friend.
July 4, 2012 at 7:42 pm
Stacy HallThank you for sharing. I believe it takes a tremendous amount of strength to show the world the moments of vulnerability. I hope that all you read will heed your message to not drink and drive, and save a life.
July 4, 2012 at 7:39 pm
Stacia IrwinThanks for the reminder Roman, Hopefully this will go viral and every one who might climb behind the wheel without really thinking it through will see this and THINK!
July 4, 2012 at 7:05 pm
Stacia Irwinwatch this!
July 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm
Ishbel MacdonaldRoman, just wanted to add this, it is a safety video about my cousin and his wife. They lost their 17 year old son Calum because of a drunk driver. Ironically the driver, who had only a provisional licene, lost her boyfriend that year in a car accident, and was gifted the car from her boyfriends parents. They both died. It is never worth it. http://www.sensibledriving.org.uk/video.htm
July 4, 2012 at 8:23 am
Roman Fitness SystemsThank you, Ishbel. I appreciate you sharing your story.
July 4, 2012 at 4:22 pm
RhiartiBeautifully written, and such an important message. A friend of mine - handsome, intelligent, athletic, and only 15 - was walking home one day when a drunk driver lost control of their car and ploughed into him on the pavement (sidewalk). He'll spend the rest of his life paralysed from the chest down. The driver got a £300 fine. I'm a generally laid back kind of person, but this is one subject I have absolutely no shades of grey on.
July 4, 2012 at 8:09 am
Rachel EastBeautifully written, and such an important message to get across. A friend of mine - handsome, intelligent, athletic, and only 15 - was walking home one day when a drunk driver lost control of their car and ploughed into him on the pavement (sidewalk). He'll spend the rest of his life paralysed from the chest down. The driver got a £300 fine. I'm a generally laid back kind of person, but this is one subject I have absolutely no shades of grey on.
July 4, 2012 at 8:04 am
JackieSweet Jesus. I certainly didn't expect to have a reason to have tears streaming down my face tonight. Powerful stuff. And then a smile with the 'sleep with someone' comment at the end which took me way off guard and got me crying harder. Damn you Roman. And Thank you Roman. It's a very important message, indeed. Have a safe 'n happy holiday tomorrow.
July 4, 2012 at 3:59 am
John RomanielloThanks for the comment, Jackie; your reaction means so much to me. I really appreciate you sharing.
July 4, 2012 at 4:11 pm
Ian MackayAwesome post! When I was younger, I had a crash. I skidded on black ice, driving too fast and wrote my car off crashing into a guy's trailer who had parked up in a passing place. It scares me to think that I could have killed someone or myself. 'Thankfully' I hit the trailer and I was in an old car, so it was well built and took the damage. The clean up crew thought I must have died. We take things for granted and who knows how long we will get in this life. This is what the internet is for, to send messages like this out. You can kee the TMZ bullshit - THIS is what people need to read. I hope everyone can find peace after what happened.
July 3, 2012 at 11:51 pm
GuestThank you for this. Katie is my cousin. We all had such a wonderful time at Lisa and Dave's wedding, only to get a phone call saying telling us of the horrendous way it ended. Thank you for keeping her memory alive. I'm sorry for your sister, and your family. I will pray for you always.
May 4, 2012 at 5:38 am
Jackie::tears:: I like your blog :) I've spent the majority of my day reading it.
January 16, 2012 at 9:01 pm
Katies cousinWow. Thank you so much for this. It's been so hard for my family. She matters so much to us and it's nice that she matters to others also. Our lives will never be the same. None of my family wants another family to go through what we have, and ESPECIALLY what Jen & Neil and Chris & Denise have. It's comforting to know what others do care. I'm sitting here crying from your words and this has been our lives for the past six years. It's never NOT there. I'm so sorry about your sister. I hope she's doing well. On a brighter note, his appeal was denied, so we don't have to be put through another trial. Thank you again.
September 16, 2011 at 3:49 pm
Shannonwhich cousin? This is Shannon
February 10, 2013 at 12:52 pm
MarcusVery powerful post man. I can relate to this, I was in a car accident over 15 years ago (I was Five years) The driver in the other car wasn't drunk, but she was driving with totally worn tires, in the mid November. A lot of ice on the roads at that time of the year here in Sweden. I managed to come out of there OK, Some neck and back injuries and "excessive bleeding in the stomach" And i was the one that got out of there with the least amount of damage. My sister Broke both legs and an arm, My father got broken kneecaps and whiplash, And my mother still has problems, she got some kind of brain damage so she's hearing impaired and get headaches all the time So this blog post actually touched me, and I live a couple of thousand miles away. I was actually surprised that you guys have so high BAC limit in the first place Here we have 0,02 and you had 0,08 that's a pretty big difference, sure people can debate on what's the right limit to set, but I would say the lower the better. Well regarding you end part of the post, I do consider you as a friend on some level, Because you do look after us and want us to be safe and healthy. Have a Awesome weekend Roman, and continue to post more good stuff. Later's /Marcus
September 4, 2011 at 7:59 am
Isaac WilkinsJohn, Powerful post, man. Reading it really hits home and really takes me back to a much darker time in my life in my younger days. I was one of those "stupid, drunken, foolish kids", and I'm pretty ashamed to admit it. As a matter of fact, I've been staring at the keyboard here for over five minutes debating whether or not I should publicly post this. F-it. I had my "moment" when I was driving my passed-out then girlfriend home from a party. Too drunk to drive, but the most sober person there (right?). We went off the road into a swamp. By the grace of God we weren't hurt and some (sober) friends came to pick us up before the police got there (there was a not-so-nice note on the car when I came back the next day). I remember sitting there shaking, totally wigged out that I had put her or someone else on the road in such risk just for being stupid. That was my wake-up call, and I'm really, really fucking lucky that all it cost me was some fenders. I wish your sister a full recovery and can only hope that everyone who reads this takes your message to heart. Isaac
September 3, 2011 at 1:19 pm
JONESY100% SOLID JOHN great read!
September 3, 2011 at 1:07 pm
Alex ShalmanHey John, Thanks for putting your heart on your sleeve so that we can experience your story and let it guide us like it has been guiding you. I'm committed to never drinking and driving - no matter what I have to do. In fact, back in 2009 I wrote about sleeping in the trunk of my car, in order to avoid driving intoxicated - http://tinyurl.com/q5cpaq (hope this is relevant). I'm sorry about Katie. I wish your sister an absolute recovery.
July 6, 2011 at 8:10 am
Gen JonesHi Roman I try to explain to my friends and family why you are different from the other somtimes fitness cash cows around. YOU TRULY CARE... From the time that I have "known" you through reading your blog and also through coaching I am so positive that you are destined for something huge. The way you can touch people is amazing and I commend you for this post, I actually think you have probably just saved a life or two. I know you turned mine around. x
July 5, 2011 at 9:22 pm
RenitaThanks for making the decision to share, Roman. Stories are a powerful way to get your message across -- it's not being judgmental if your intention is to raise someone's awareness of how their actions can affect others -- and your personal story combined with all the comments might be just the thing to make someone think twice about their behavior.
July 5, 2011 at 10:51 am
AndrewEvery so often a post like this is important. Life is short, and shit really does happen and a post like this is a pretty good reminder to try and make life better for everyone rather than worse.
July 4, 2011 at 9:56 am
Jaime VillelaWriting that post took a lot of guts. My respect meter just went up a notch.
July 4, 2011 at 9:06 am
SirenaHi Roman, This post gave me the chills. Thank you so much for sharing all of this and for opening up about your sister. I've personally have dealt with alcoholism, and drinking/driving with certain people in my life, so this hits very close to home. Thank you again for writing this. You're doing some amazing things. Best always, Sirena
July 3, 2011 at 7:00 am
TanYou know John, I heard that once you seen an car accident occur in front of your eyes, the chance of you being in a wreck decreases by nearly 50%
July 2, 2011 at 1:30 pm
FredThis is so sad. I guess I'm tremendously lucky that I have not been exposed to any of the tragedies that today seem so pervasive. Even though you shared the story of your sister with us, I think it's very humbling and powerful of you to put it out there with your community. Kudos, man. I hope you'll have a great holiday weekend and that we'll talk soon. Stay safe and have fun buddy.
July 2, 2011 at 10:12 am
RoanI'm silenced. But it's really good to think of this sometimes. I personally don't drink at all and I don't hang out with people who drink excessively, but the rule remains, be careful and make mature decisions at all times. Good to see this side of life reflected a bit on your blog.
July 2, 2011 at 7:34 am
NGreat Post. It's amazing how most people think it's not gonna happen to *them*. But it can.
July 2, 2011 at 3:31 am
Isaac RThanks for the post Romanz. Powerful stuff. My senior year in high school I lost 3 good friends to alcohol related crashes. Even got a tattoo in his rememberence. And throughout the years I have found out that at least another 4-5 good friends of mine have also died in alcohol related crashes. I have been guilty of driving drunk but I thank God I have never crashed or killed anybody. Ever since my DWI I have always had someone to drive me home afterwards. Anywways, powerful post Bro and it hit home...
July 2, 2011 at 12:55 am
Dan GoGreat post bru. Please...everyone stay safe during the holidays. You can party hard but be responsible about it.
July 1, 2011 at 10:28 pm
ShannaDrinking and driving has always been a very sensitive issue for me. When I was five my uncle was drunk and slammed his truck into a tree. Thankfully, he didn't hurt any innocent bystanders and only busted his kneecap. He lived with us at the time, and even though I was young it had a very big impact. When I was in high school the girl who would have graduated valedictorian was hit head-on by a drunk driver. Her mom had raised her as a single parent and was left alone and devastated. She was never the same, and passed away a few years later. Then just two years ago a friend of our family was riding home from a bar, both he and the driver were drunk. They had a single vehicle accident and both were killed. Roman, I enjoy all of your posts, but this is certainly the most powerful. I can't thank you enough for putting this message out there. People respect you and your opinion, and hopefully they will take notice. You never know, you may have actually saved a life with this post.
July 1, 2011 at 8:53 pm
LauraMy heart aches over this story. This is actually a very good reason for us all to get as fit as possible. It is a proven fact that if two people are in an accident and one has strong abdominals and one does not, the strong one has a much greater chance of surviving. When I lived in a tent in the woods, also about six years ago, there was a kid that I would hear spinning cookies at the boat ramp accross the road, just out of sight. One night I heard him being way more radical than usual. I did not have a cell phone of my own, but had possession of a friend's old one that was no longer activated. 911 calls can be made from deactivated phones, but when I tried, the battery was to low to complete the call. I was going to turn him in. Later, the forest went dark with smoke. I thought it was on fire. I loaded my cats in a suitcase with wheels, packed a backpack, and was ready to ride my bike out if they evacuated. The smoke cleared. The next day, when I walked down to the boat ramp, there were workers there. I asked what had happened the night before. They told me that there had been an accident. The guy I was trying to call in had been driving drunk with his friends in the car and hit another car head-on. The people in the other car were Christian and were spared, but everyone in the drunk guy's car died. I later found out that they were all friends of my son who was in high school at the time. If I had made sure the phone was charged... if I had been able to complete the call...if they had gotten to him before... I blamed myself for a long time because I could have done something if I had had my shit together. I had very good friends who helped me get through it and understand that it wasn't my fault. I continued to live in that tent for some time. I rode my bike past the crosses on the road at least every other day while I picked up beer cans thrown out by drivers to avoid open container violations. It was very difficult, but avoidance is never the way I get over things. I had to be exposed to it to eventually lessen my own sensitivity to it. I haven't thought about this in some time until I read your post. I have said a prayer for my family and all those who have suffered because of drunk drivers. Thank you for this post. We all need to remember the innocents who have lost their lives this way, and not to be stupid and end up being a cause of this kind of pain.
July 1, 2011 at 7:56 pm
Matt KittoeThanks for posting this. I know all about tragedy in the family, and I know how hard it must have been for you to write this. For me, though, this isn't just a site that I come to for fitness information. I do think of you as a great friend, because you're not just another "fitness guru" blandly doling out generic info just to sell a mediocre program. You actually care about mankind, and when I read your posts I actually feel like I'm being given friendly advice rather than being lectured. That's what makes you different from the other schmucks out there. THAT is why I come here, and consider you to be a great friend. As for drinking, I've always been the "lame" guy in the group. I still manage to have fun and (occasionally) make women swoon at my feet and potential enemies tremble, but I limit myself to two beers or one mixed drink. For years I've been following Nate Green's "five drinks a week" rule, which keeps me sober and able to actually enjoy a beer instead of seeing it as a means of getting drunk. It also keeps me sexy.
July 1, 2011 at 7:51 pm
RickThanks for sharing. April 16th, 2010 I was hit from behind while sitting at a red light from a guy who was sitting at a red light and the guy behind him never slowed down. Sadly, the guy in the middle car passed away from his injuries. Changed my life being that close to being the "one" who did not survive. Some have told me that is survivors guilt. I don't know if it is or not or what it is, but it is weird. Have a great holiday weekend and thanks again for sharing.
July 1, 2011 at 7:46 pm
DanGood post. No one should feel that they have the right to needlessly put others at risk / in harms way. As an aside, where I'm from the legal limit is
July 1, 2011 at 7:35 pm
Shelley TurkThank you for caring enough to post this. Well said, Roman.
July 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm
TunyaRoman, This totally explains why when I contacted you for help and explained about my car accident/brain trauma that you have given of your time so freely. I am truly humbled by your level of caring. I, too, have lost someone that I loved due to a drunk driver. He was buying the ring when it happened. A profound loss that even after 10 years, still stabs at my heart. Though I have moved on, I will never forget the morning I received the call. You can never be prepared for that. People, respect those around you; call a cab, a relative or even a friend if you cannot drive home. Thank you Roman for speaking out on this most horrendous issue. Have a safe a happy holiday weekend.
July 1, 2011 at 7:32 pm
John RomanielloI'm sorry to hear about your brother, Vaughn, and that you were injured. Thank you for reading and for posting. Be safe. -R
July 1, 2011 at 7:30 pm
JenniferThanks for the reminder Roman!!! I think we all think of you as a friend and appreciate the fact that you told us that story. Happy 4th of July everyone! PLEASE be safe!
July 1, 2011 at 7:28 pm
vaughanGreat post & one I can closely relate to! My family was hit by a drunk truck driver when I was a kid & my little bro was killed & I ended up with 500 stitches in my face after going through the side window! Thank you for writing this post!! Peace VC
July 1, 2011 at 7:28 pm
DerekWell put, my friend.
July 1, 2011 at 7:18 pm