Friday, July 30, 2021

Fleeing Police, Driver Strikes and Kills Person Crossing River Road in Keizer

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.

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.

Friday's paper

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

Killed in 2020
Killed in 2019
Killed in 2018
Killed in 2017
Killed in 2016:
Killed in 2015:
On erasing the driver - Columbia Journalism Review

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:


Anonymous said...

Your theory seems to be that, by identifying drivers that are involved in pedestrian deaths, whether accidentally, intentionally, or negligently, there would be a public benefit by somehow inducing safer driving behaviors within the autoist community.
There is absolutely no evidence that that is true.
Unless there is some legitimate basis for this theory (and perhaps even if there isn't), the public shame that might be piled on to those who most likely will have to live with a lifetime of guilt and shame, seems more like cruelty than anything else, unless the act has been identified as a criminal act.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

You misunderstand.

The problem of "erasing the driver" is about grammar and rhetoric first. It's about constructions with the passive voice that mystify the operation of and responsibility for driving, a "dangerous instrumentality." The driver is the one who employs lethal power and speed, and when we mystify the operator of a vehicle, we contribute to victim-blaming. Demystifying that element is a very small part in changing the norms and culture of driving, ones currently that make drivers an unfairly protected class. Using better language will not by itself have a causal relation to crash reduction.

The solution to "erasing the driver" is not to name and shame a driver who has killed someone, who as you say must bear that burden. The names are usually in police reports or come out later, and rarely is any extra effort necessary there.

Penalties should come from the law, which is too lenient at our present time. For a discussion of the legal questions about punishment, see Gregory Shill's article in the New York University Law Review, "Should Law Subsidize Driving."

The earlier posts collected under "erasing the driver" here discuss particularly egregious examples, and may offer more clarity for you. If you would like to continue the discussion or to comment on future posts, please adopt a pseudonym and use it consistently.

anothervoice said...

Placing a lot of meaning on the use of the phrase "the car struck the pedestrian" instead of "the driver struck the pedestrian" seems like an overreaction. I doubt that there is any malicious intent or real harm done.

I think it is universally understood (at least until driverless cars are in regular use) that autoists are people and cars are objects that do not act willfully.

As to legal penalties, that issue is fairly settled and is consistent with legal and societal standards. If the driver is negligent or reckless, penalties should be relatively severe compared to those levied in cases where driver error or road designs become a factor.

All of this must, unfortunately, be viewed in the context of the unequal access to fair review that exists in our society. If the driver is personified as a criminal and lacks the resources to present a proper defense, he is almost certainly going to be severely punished.

If the driver has position or resources, then only in the most egregious circumstances will the state hold him responsible in any meaningful way, comparatively speaking.

I would argue that the unequal application of penalties for those involved in traffic events is one of many opportunities that the state exploits to heap punishment upon those that it has classified as undesirable. A clear example of this is how the massive amounts of traffic cam related fines impact those with limited resources. While being merely an inconvenience to those of means, a couple of these types of citations could easily result in life changing sanctions for the poor or working poor.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with information on the driver and dead, as well as a Grand Jury indictment.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated and revised with clip on a memorial vigil.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with news on sentencing.