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.