Wednesday on one of our bad stroads in Keizer, a person fleeing police struck and killed Becky Dietzel of Salem as she was attempting to cross on foot.
|At Cummings, River Road is a five lane stroad|
On Saturday State Police, who had taken over the investigation
because police shot someone, identified the driver, Sean Beck of Olympia
and Silverton, and Dietzel, the dead. Salem Reporter also found that a Grand Jury had deliberated and issued an indictment
for felony crimes of first-degree manslaughter, attempted
aggravated murder with a firearm, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle,
felon in possession of a firearm, failure to perform duties of a driver
to injured persons, fleeing a police officer.
[Beck] also was indicated for driving under the influence of
intoxicants, a misdemeanor, accused of having a blood alcohol level of
Court records show Beck was charged in Lincoln City in 2016 for driving with a suspended license
Much of the developing story still showed our preference for insulating driving from criticism and fault. Even photos from a memorial vigil framed it as a mysterious instance of "hit by car," as if the car merely had fallen from the sky like a meteor.
|The SJ caption frames it as a mysterious "hit by car"|
Even when there are clear crimes and a bad actor, reporters and reports sometimes choose to erase the driver, refusing to make the driver the grammatical subject and moral agent, responsible for a death. This obfuscates the nature of driving, its "dangerous instrumentality." Our norms and conventions prefer the passive voice and "hit by car" formula, explaining away the terrible costs of our autoism.
As the media reports evolved, some did shift and appeared to settle on the driver's fault.
First story from Salem Reporter, which first employs the passive voice and erases the driver:
A police shooting and pursuit from Keizer into Salem Wednesday evening ended in a retailer parking lot in what video shows was a gunfight before a suspect was arrested.
Other video posted on social media and witness accounts indicate that a pedestrian was struck and killed in Keizer during the episode....
The statement [from Keizer PD] made no reference to a pedestrian death.
A second version from Salem Reporter with more detail and active verbs focusing on the driver:
Officers spoke to two men near the vehicle, which had been stolen, police said in a news release. One man was cooperative. The other "exchanged gunfire with officers and then fled in the vehicle," the release said.
Police said the driver fled southbound on River Road, striking and killing a pedestrian who was crossing the street near the intersection with Cummings Lane North in Keizer.
And in print, where there was a mixture of passive and active constructions.
The lede employs the passive construction, erasing the driver: "A pedestrian was struck and killed in the midst of a police pursuit and shooting..." It's also got a little bit of that "police-involved shooting" euphemism.
But the headline is right and a couple of paragraphs down does not erase the driver: "As the man fled...he struck and killed a person crossing the street."
Much of the story will be swallowed up by the narrative of a police shooting, and the fact that the fleeing suspect killed a bystander may not receive adequate weight. It might also prompt more questions about the times and ways police choose to pursue suspects. They got their man, but at what cost? Several very human decisions, most of them preventable, set in motion this awful calamity, and we should think about them more instead of explaining them away as accidental and tolerable collateral damage for using our roads.
Dieztel deserves better.
This post may be updated.