The night Carl died is a story I rarely share. However, October is National Pedestrian Safety Month. It’s time I tell my story.
I was walking back from a hike along Eagle Creek near my home recently. As I entered the housing addition where I live, I noticed a group of young teen boys walking in the street, on the right or traffic side of the road. I asked if I could chat with them, and they came over to the sidewalk with me. I explained that there were a lot of drivers that drove on this road both too fast and distracted. I’d seen them too often, and that having their backs to traffic was dangerous. I also suggested they use the sidewalks. The boys politely thanked me and used the sidewalk.
When I got home, I told my wife about this and said I don’t know why these boys on the street bothered me so much. She looked at me and said, “You know why, remember?” I did.
A Sock Hop
It was the winter of 1967; I was 16 years old, soon to be 17. There was a sock hop at the Junior High gym. If you don’t know what a sock hop was, it was a dance on a gymnasium floor where everyone took off their shoes to avoid damaging the gym floor. We hopped in our socks.
After the game, I gave a ride home to my girlfriend, who sat in the passenger seat of my mom’s 1965 Mustang, and my cheerleader sister with two more cheerleaders in the back seat.
There was a bit of snow on the windshield, so after starting the car, I stepped out to scrape off the windshield. Randy N. came over to help. He wanted to say high to the cheerleaders.
The Night Carl Died
Only a few blocks away on Thompson Road, a two-lane unlighted road, suddenly there was a load boom. My girlfriend screamed that the windshield on her side was smashed. I thought I must have hit a falling tree limb or something.
When I got out of the car, Randy N. frantically told me it was Carl. I had hit Carl with my car. Randy, Carl, and one other were walking home from the dance. They all wore blue jeans and dark blue letter sweaters. I didn’t see them. Carl had been thrown to the side of the road in some bushes and weeds. Although he was breathing, the left side of his skull was gone. His brain was exposed. He died at the hospital.
How Often Does this Happen?
“Nearly 8,000 pedestrians were killed on our nation’s roads in crashes involving a motor vehicle in 2021.1 That’s about one death every 66 minutes. One in six people who died in crashes in 2021 were pedestrians. There were also an estimated 104,000 emergency department visits of pedestrians treated for non-fatal crash-related injuries in 2020.” — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
To this day, it’s difficult for me to talk about it. Surely, there was something I could’ve done or done differently.
Here’s What I Can Do.
Drivers, be aware of what’s in the road. Please don’t drive distracted, especially in areas where there could be pedestrians. Slow down! Every day, I drive through 25 MPH school zones with flashing yellow lights and get passed by drivers. I’ve even had drivers angry with me for driving 25.
My neighborhood is quiet, with wonderful neighbors, but too many people drive too fast. They also run stop signs. Twenty years ago, my wife petitioned the city for a stop sign on the main drag. The city installed two. On my walks to and from the creek, I pass by one of the stop signs. Over a week, I counted 100 cars at the stop sign, of which 88 ran the sign. Yes, most slowed down, but some didn’t reduce their speed.
If you drive a tall truck or SUV, you may not be able to see what’s on the road directly beside or in front of you, so please drive ahead.
Please do not walk in the road with the traffic. If there is a sidewalk, use it, and if there is no sidewalk, walk against the traffic so you can see what’s coming.
And please don’t walk on the road distracted. Just last week in downtown Indy, I stopped to let a pedestrian, staring at their phone, cross the street against the light. What if I’d been on my phone?
We Can All Do More
“Pedestrian Safety Month shouldn’t just be about observance; it should be about action. Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition have long raised our voices for safer streets, and we have followed that up with action by supporting quick build demonstrations, training local champions, and providing important policy guidance to jurisdictions.” — Ready for Action: National Pedestrian Safety Month
I cried as I wrote this. I hope you never experience the night Carl died. Please stay safe.