Thursday, August 03, 2006

August 3, 2006 - A year is gone

Today is the one year anniversary of Meg an Schuyler's accident. On July 14, Busy and I appeared in court in Springfield OH to make victim's impact statements at the sentencing hearing of the truck driver who killed them. He pled no contest to two counts of failed assured distance and two counts of vehicular manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to the maximum penalty allowed by law...he will spend 6 months in jail and his commercial license is suppended for four years. While it hardly seems adequate for taking two lives, it is what it is. And I have learned (quickly) that it doesn't matter what his punishment might have been...it doesn't change anything for us. All it does serve notice to anyone else who sits behind the wheel of an semi truck. I can pray that just maybe, they take their responsibility for the people around them on the highway a little more seriously. The statement I prepared for the court follows:


This is one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever had to do. There’s no real way to summarize the lives of Meg and Schuyler, the magnitude of our loss, or the impact this tragedy has had on our lives. It’s just too big.

Regardless of what is decided here today, it will not bring back the ones we love. It will not give us back our future together and it will not take away the pain of this loss.

I can attempt to put you in our shoes for a moment, but no matter how horrified you imagine you’d feel if this happened to you, in reality it is ten times worse. The experience is unimaginable until you live it. I wish I could remember how I felt before this happened. I wish I could remember feeling whole. When you are as close to a sibling as we three sisters were, they are a big part of who you are. There is nothing like the times the three of us were together. It was unimaginable that we would not have a long future together. We even believed that if or when we lost our spouses, we would drift back to living together under the same roof. Twenty years from now we were supposed to be sitting on a porch together laughing helplessly at jokes that only we understood and enjoying each other’s grandchildren. Meg will never have that now and Elizabeth and I will continue to experience a huge sense of loss whenever we are together.

I cannot begin to imagine or summarize the full impact this has had on Schuyler's father Martin or Amelia. I believe that Marty is submitting his own statement to the judge. They were both unable to come into this court and come face to face with the man who is responsible for their horrific loss. It is by no means easy for Elizabeth or I to be here today. But someone had to be here on behalf of Meg and Schuyler, to tell their story and attempt to paint a picture of who they were. We both felt that it was the least we could do for them.

Schuyler was the first child of the new generation of our family. He was cute as a button as a toddler and a uniquely endearing young man. He had an outrageous sense of humor and could make us laugh until we cried. His presence captured a room. His seven cousins looked up to him as he always kept things interesting. It has been a very difficult loss for all of us. But, for our children, it has also been a sobering lesson in the fragility of life. On August 3, 2005, a level of their innocence was stolen from them.

I believe that Elizabeth or I could talk endlessly about Meg. She was imaginative, hysterically funny, intelligent, curious, and a beautiful spirit. But most of all, she had the biggest heart in the world. At her funeral, one of her teaching colleagues said to me that if she had one fault, it was that she cared TOO much. She would do anything to ease the way for anyone, regardless of the personal sacrifice it involved. This applied to anyone, stranger or friend, including her ex husband after a particularly painful divorce.

She was a teacher with a passion for her field (biology) and her students. She had a special place in her heart for the student who struggles. She asked for the remedial classes where she could really make a difference. There was nothing she wouldn’t do to help a student succeed. They were welcome in her classroom any time for whatever help or support she could provide. Meg’s loss has been a tremendous loss to Anderson High School and the many students who will never have the opportunity to benefit from her wisdom and compassion.

I can honestly say that I am not the same person after experiencing this horror. To lose a sibling in the prime of her life and a nephew on the cusp of his is devastating enough. But add to that the nightmare of HOW it happened. Meg was looking forward to a trip with Elizabeth to see me in PA and be reunited with her daughter who had been vacationing with my family. She was enroute to Elizabeth’s house at the time of the accident and they were to continue on together from there. The three of us were excited about having a few days of sister time together. When I think back to that day, I still can’t believe it unfolded as it did. What should have been a lovely trip for my sisters never happened. Instead, Elizabeth and I went through hours of confusion and worry when Meg couldn’t be reached by cell phone. The came the horrifying truth in a call from Elizabeth sobbing “Katherine, they’re dead…..they’re both dead!”

I held Amelia as she sobbed upon hearing the news. Her life as she knew it had come to a crashing end.

As details of what happened trickled in, I couldn’t help but mentally live it myself. Put yourself in that car. I have mentally replayed those moments before they were killed countless time. Each time, I feel sick in the pit of my stomach. I pray to God they never saw it coming….that in an instant it was just over. I’m terrified this is not the case. How helpless can one feel upon seeing a semi truck bearing down upon them at highway speed. I’m sickened to think that they may have had even an instant of helpless awareness as to what was happening. They very well may have. In my mind, I watch the violence. They were crushed, mutilated, incinerated. I wish I could erase the mental images but they are seared into my consciousness. It will never leave me. I must live my life with these haunting images.

My family has also had to live with the nagging question of why. Statistically, it is nearly impossible that it would happen to one of us, that they would be in that spot at that moment. Why didn’t the truck stop? Meg had stopped behind other traffic that had halted due to another accident ahead of them. We have been informed there were no skid marks to indicate that Mr. Holland even attempted to slow down, much less stop. He was sitting high up in the cab of the truck with a clear view of everything that was ahead of him, yet he did not stop. At this time, we have no reason to believe there was any type of vehicle malfunction. We are left simply with the belief that Mr. Holland was operating the truck negligently and/or carelessly. To my mind, that is completely unacceptable when you are in control of a killing machine running at 70 mph.

Regardless of what happens here, we will never have Meg and Schuyler back. Since this happened, it has become a part of who I am. I feel compelled to tell people that my sister was murdered by a truck.

We cannot bring them back, but we can possibly spare another life and family from this grief. It boggles my mind that killing two people with a truck is a misdemeanor offense. I could have some degree of understanding if environmental conditions were adverse or the equipment had malfunctioned. The bottom line is, two incredible people are dead and we are left to figure out how to recover some semblance of a life without them. I call it our “new normal”

It is my opinion that Mr. Holland should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. He should not be able to return to operating a large commercial truck and his license should be revoked. It is not a privilege granted to those who are irresponsible behind the wheel. The next victim could be you or someone you love. Those who operate semi trucks need to be motivated to exercise constant conscious responsibility when they are on the road. We all have heard how truckers fudge their way around the laws to meet demanding schedules. We all have experienced panic as we’ve been tailgated by a truck. Many truckers have no qualms about terrorizing motorists as they press to meet their deadlines.

While your decision on a sentence ultimately changes nothing for us, I respectfully ask that the maximum sentence be imposed. I would find some comfort in believing that the action taken here just might save a life. My sister treasured and nurtured all living things. I appear here in her honor and memory and I ask in her behalf that the value of life be considered as you come to your decision.

7 comments:

Cynthia said...

Oh, Kat, it's hard to believe that it's been a year. It just doesn't seem that long ago. May God/dess be with you and your family as this pain has been refreshed today. With the loss this man caused, there can be no real justice. You're in my thoughts and prayers.

ckays1967 said...

Kat...

This is heartwrenching beyond belief and yet the most lovely tribute I have read. Not sentimental and gushy but truthful and raw.

Hopefully time will be the balm that your soul needs to heal the wounds. You will always have these scars of loss and longing but may God touch you so that there is no longer bleeding from your heart.

Love, Christina

Paul said...

Sweet Kat...your words broke my heart all over again. I am in awe of the magnitude of your loss. There can be no justice or consolation.

V said...

I`m so sorru, Kat.
A beautiful tribute.
Hugs,
V

Anonymous said...

A very beautiful tribute. New to your blog so I don't know the full story yet but your letter was quite heart breaking and touching.
(((((((hugs)))))))))

Cheryl said...

Dear Kat,

You wroted this months ago and I've just come upon it. Your love and honor for Meg and Schuyler shine brightly through your written words. Words from your heart, they are so powerful. I expected nothing less.

I read through this with tears for you, for your loss, your strength to live on.

Trucking is touches my life closely too. My guy and I pray each and every day for his travels to be safe for everyone around him.

You are right, companies push these drivers. Loads are always due at destinations in unGodly timeframes, schedules that are sometimes just impossible. But, the load gets there.

Receiving companies dock (monetary fines) shippers for late deliveries. Appointments are made but there doesn't seem to be much of an allowance for traffic and/or weather. Not to mention, the driver had to be up at 5am to drop the first load, and needs to drive another 300 miles to pick up the next load, which takes another 4 hours to load onto the truck once there. And that load needs to be 700 miles or better by the next morning!

Driver's are expected to nap while being loaded, yet loads need to be counted and verified while being loaded. It's crazy! Laws do need to be changed.

Nothing will change the unexpected outcome of that beautiful summer day, on Aug 3, 2005. I'm sure Meg and Schulyer are with you daily in spirit. I'm sure they are so proud of you, for the strength you find to continue life in your "new normal." Bless you.

emmapeelDallas said...

Kat,

I am so, so sorry. I just cannot imagine what you and your family have gone through. You're in my thoughts and prayers.

Judi