Tragedy does not usually happen in front of you. Tragedy is a television show. Tragedy is usually a section of the nightly news sandwiched between the arrested athlete and the pictures of people fighting on the other side of the world. Tragedy is usually about as real as the Reality TV in the timeslot following the news. I had never seen tragedy in three dimensions. Until today.
I have seen dead bodies before. Three times in car wrecks and then at the normal places like funerals. I didn't expect to see several of them today.
I was returning to my office on a sunny Santa Monica afternoon with $200 worth of blueprints in my hand. I was walking towards Arizona Avenue on 2nd Street, the same walk that I make 10 times a week from my parking lot to my desk. I saw and heard commotion that was about 50 ft in front of me. I couldn't tell exactly what was going on because there is construction next door to my building and because there are tents on Arizona, as there is every Wednesday for the Farmers Market. The screaming grew louder and louder, and then there was kind of a blur that crossed 2nd Street on Arizona. I now know that this was a speeding car, bowling over bodies and killing many people in its path.
I saw a mob of people running after the car, no doubt to take revenge on the driver of the car. Thankfully, they realized it was a disoriented old man and held back their urges to pummel the life out of him. Chaos. Cell phones don't work. Network busy. Everyone is calling everyone. I didn't know what to do. How do you help someone who is dying, what do you do? This is the scariest, and last moment of their lives. They were buying fruit and now they are surrounded by strangers who have absolutely no idea what to do. I looked around and saw several people dead and dying. Children. Overturned baby strollers. There was debris everywhere. The sunny day literally and figuratively turned cloudy and about 5 minutes after the car had taken the lives from these people the rain came hard. It was odd, a heavenly metaphor of sorts. Raining. Crying. Screaming. Running. Bleeding. Dying.
Police and paramedics were there in what seemed like seconds, but I don't have any clue how long it really was. I don't know how they do it. How is this their job? How can these people stay under control in the midst of real madness? My hat is off to them. They had the injured to hospitals quickly and undoubtedly saved their lives. It is comforting to know that there is such a quick response when you need it most.
I stood on the corner for over an hour; watching, wanting to help, but knowing there was nothing that I could do. I saw where the car had finally stopped. It was totaled. Imagine how fast it would have to be going to get that beat up from hitting just bodies. Two of these bodies were lifeless on the ground in front of it. The windshield was busted, it was covered in blood and I think I remember there being a shoe on the roof.
Shock. Everyone was in shock. The first thought on everyone's mind was that this was a malicious action. How could it not be? How could you drive from 4th to 2nd during a Farmers Market where there are hundreds of people on accident? It is looking now like it is an accident, though that is still hard to believe.
The driver of the car was 86-year-old Russell Weller, by all accounts a sweet old man. He was on no medicine, not drunk, didn't have a seizure, stroke or heart attack. How did this happen? 4th to 2nd is further than it sounds. It's reported that he may have pressed the gas instead of the brake; for 2 1/2 blocks? If this is the case, then there needs to be better regulation of the driving elderly. Eight people are dead because someone with declining motor skills made a mistake. I feel bad for the sweet old man, if this truly was an accident. He will live with the memory of killing a three-year-old girl for the rest of his life. He shouldn't have been driving... He fucking shouldn't have been driving.
At about 4:30 it dawned on me that I had been carrying $200 blueprints around in the rain for two hours. I took them into my office sat down at my desk and noticed white peaches and a loaf of bread on my desk. I had bought them from one of the stands at the Farmers Market just a few hours earlier.
I truly feel for anyone who lost a loved one today. Get well soon to all of those who are injured. People throw the word "hero" around a lot, but today I saw the nice construction workers who work next door lift the car off of a critically injured woman and pull her to safety. I know that a lot more people would be dead had it not been for the police and paramedics who do the job that most of us could never handle. This was the most terrible thing I have ever seen.