Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Driver Strikes and Kills Selma Pierce While Walking in West Salem

Selma Pierce died Tuesday, December 1st in a crash after David Holmes, driving a Chevrolet SUV, struck and killed her.

Passive voice and erasing the driver

Consistently the coverage talks around or away from the violence in our autoism, using the passive voice in variations on the "she was hit by a car" formula as it it were a tree limb falling from the sky.

The First Set of Reports

On erasing the driver - Columbia Journalism Review

The first reports depend on the initial release from Police, and the template Police use mystifies rather than clarifies, even when avoiding the language of "accident," displacing agency from a human driver to a car. From Salem Police:

[This evening] at approximately 5:00 p.m., the Salem Police and Salem Fire Departments responded to Doaks Ferry RD NW near Hidden Valley DR NW on a report of a vehicle colliding with a pedestrian.

The pedestrian, identified as Selma Pierce, age 66 of Salem, was declared deceased at the scene. The driver of the Chevrolet SUV that struck Pierce remained on scene and is cooperating with the investigation.

The preliminary investigation indicates Pierce was in the roadway when she was struck. The investigation is still ongoing, and no further details will be released at this time.

The SJ adds a little more focus on the agency of the driver, but still uses the passive voice first (see below for notes on language):

Salem community leader and retired dentist Dr. Selma Pierce died after she was struck by a driver Tuesday evening while walking in West Salem....

Police officials said Pierce, 66, was walking on the roadway when a driver in a Chevrolet SUV, struck her.

It's hard to know what "in the roadway" means here. The west side of Doaks Ferry here does not appear to have a complete sidewalk, and the east side in streetview shows encroaching and overhanging brush. In addition to crossing the road, there are many reasons a person on foot might be in the shoulder area or near the fog line. The road may also be inadequately lit for the night. Drivers almost certainly zoom on Doaks Ferry. Just south of the intersection, Doaks is posted for 40mph, and any crash at that speed is nearly certain to be fatal. Even lawfully following the speed limit is to employ lethal force.

At Hidden Valley (blue box)
Doaks Ferry lacks sidewalks on west (red)
(SKATS sidewalk inventory)

Salem Reporter (at top) erases the driver in the passive voice "hit by car" formula.

Initial statements from family and party firmly place the event in the category of unavoidable "accident" rather than preventable "crash."

Official Statements call it "accident"

An Update from Salem PD and Second Reports

Bud Pierce was out with a statement very quickly, and it is hard not to read the "family member" here as him, but it is interesting the PD is not disclosing more detail on that. Perhaps it was a child or other relative and not Bud himself.

From Salem PD:

The preliminary findings from the investigation into yesterday's fatal crash in west Salem identify David Holmes, age 58 of Salem, as the driver of the Chevrolet SUV. No arrests have been made and no citations issued. Investigators determined the involved pedestrian, west Salem resident Selma Pierce, was out for an evening walk with a family member when she stepped out into the road was struck by the vehicle driven by Holmes. The family member with Pierce was not injured in the incident.

"Fatal traffic collisions are complex investigations and take time," explained Lieutenant Treven Upkes. "Reconstructions, diagrams and models must be created and analyzed before incident details can be determined and a case closed."

The Traffic Team will continue their work to finalize the investigation, yet no further updates will be provided.

The Oregonian adds,

Lt. Treven Upkes of the Salem Police Department said the area where the crash happened was dark, with only a few street lights. He said one side of the street had a sidewalk, but he didn’t immediately know which side Pierce had been walking on.

Because Pierce enjoyed social status and was a public figure as politician, the circumstances of her death will receive greater scrutiny and attention than the circumstances of other people recently killed on foot and on bike.

Front page obituary
also erases the driver
(Dec 3rd)

Still, until we are willing to face seriously that we have a driving problem, a constellation of acceptance for driving too often and driving too fast; of driving with and tolerating minor lapses of attention, not to speak of major lapses; of road design that privileges car speed and car through-put and forgiveness for driver error at the expense of other road users; and while we focus instead on some notion of a pedestrian safety problem, as if the burden for safety had to fall mainly on people walking, altogether we will continue to be surprised by the apparent mystery of these "tragic accidents."

And while it is possible that her death will prompt a deeper consideration of our autoism, it is more likely it will be absorbed and understood as "tragic accident" in order to avoid facing the problems of our driving and of our autoist system, and to insulate driving as fundamentally blameless. If there is blame for the driver, it will be because they were cited as driving unlawfully and will be considered a bad actor. We will avoid driving and car use as themselves problematic and dangerous. But good actors of good intent also can kill because of structural problems in our autoist system. 

Even at dusk on a late fall evening, a person should be able to go for a walk.

This post may be updated.

Back in 2015 we said "troubling"
but really, how troubled are we?
Killed in 2020
Killed in 2019
Killed in 2018
Killed in 2017
Killed in 2016:
Killed in 2015:

For more discussion of language see these recent examples:

For more on the cultural and legal context of our autoism in which we minimize the responsibility of drivers and shift blame to people on foot, see:


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(updated multiple times with a sidewalk inventory map, a second statement from police, and further reflections on our approach to safety and our autoism)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(updated with clip from the front page obituary today, and some additional comment)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Over on FB, an advocate suggests a "twenty is plenty" campaign as a specific call-to-action. When someone asks, "What can we do?" this is an excellent answer and something to rally behind.

"With the recent tragic high-profile traffic death on a high speed-limit road (Doakes Ferry is signed for 40 mph), it's long past time Salem follow best safety practices and move to 30 mph or below on all high-traffic streets, and 15-20 mph on neighborhood streets."

Anonymous said...

Because 40mph is lawful, even with an unmarked crosswalk there was no misdeed:

"The section of road has a wide shoulder with a sidewalk that abruptly ends on Doakes Ferry Road. There’s no crosswalk, so the only way to cross is by walking across two lanes of traffic separated by a double yellow line.

Before Michael Pierce had time to say anything, his mother was hit by a southbound white Chevrolet Suburban traveling at 40 mph.

Those are the findings of the Polk County District Attorney’s review of the case provided to Salem Reporter, which found there was no evidence to justify criminal charges against the driver."