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 .15....
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.
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.
Postscript, July 23rd, 2023
|In the paper today
From the paper:
Sean K. Beck, 49, was sentenced [for 17 years] by Marion County Judge Channing Bennett after he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, five counts of unlawful use of a firearm, illegal possession of a firearm by a felon and driving under the influence.
A blood draw after the crash yielded a reading of .35% BAC, "more than four times the legal limit."
So far, the story has not prompted questions about initiating and proceeding with a police chase.
|Back in 2015 we said "troubling"
but really, how troubled are we?
Killed in 2021
- Unknown person (I-5 and Market Street interchange)
- Rachel Bunting (while operating a bus for Cherriots)
- Blake Saville (on bike)
- Christian Kennedy (on Silverton Road)
- Galina Dvorskaya (south Commercial)
- Marlene Moreno (downtown crosswalk)
- Jaime Le Ann Hall (on skateboard)
- Sharon Pritchard
- Mario Lopez-Lopez (walking a bike)
- Unknown person via SJ (on I-5 near Market St)
- Andrew Otho Polston (biking on Windsor Island Road)
- Jolene Braasch Berry (on bike)
- Richardo Morales Avila (in McMinnville)
- Octavious Calloway (on I-5 near Market St)
- Selma Pierce
- Hermilo Mata Jr.
- Unknown person (on mobility scooter)
- Marshall Leslie
- Linda Adamson (south Salem) and Stephanie Ashford (just outside Salem)
- Jason Libel (on bike)
- Josephine Watkins
- Rodric Kenyon Drolshagen
- Olivia Stroup
- Jaren Nash
- Alex Armes
- Anthony Earnest
- Baxter Harrell
- Unknown (just outside Salem)
- Bradley Goad (in Silverton)
- James Alton
- Caroline Storm
- William Hatch
- Travis Lane
- David McGregor
- Michael and Christine Crossland
- Rebecca Schoff
|On erasing the driver - Columbia Journalism Review
For more discussion of language see these recent examples:
- "Headline Omits Verb, Erases the Driver; New TRB Paper Addresses Problem" (2019). This also has links to a follow-up study on framing and reader interpretation.
- See the way the story develops with different publications in "Driver Strikes and Kills Marshall Leslie on Foot near Downtown Safeway." (2019)
- "Why so much Acceptance for Traffic Cone Theory of Walking?" with discussion of a Salem Police PSA (2015)
- Notes on a City of Salem PSA this month, "City PSA on Time Change and Safety Needs Paradigm Change Itself." It has many links to the history of jaywalking also. (2019)
- On "distracted walking," "Death on Foot: Too Much on Distracted Walking Canard." (2018)
- "Why Pedestrian Rights themselves may not be Sufficient." (2015)
- Two discussions of a law review article about our system of subsidy for autoism, "The Laws for Compulsory Autoism at The Atlantic," and "Police Publish Video on How to Speed Without a Ticket." (both 2019)