I am going to have a hard time writing this.
Because I had really intended to take a break from what I was working on that day and head over to the Wednesday market to have lunch. It was only a few blocks away from where I lived at the time. And the variety of things you could find there were and still are, beyond what one finds in a typical farmer’s market on any continent. But something, I can’t remember what, spurred me to postpone lunch and get some brilliant idea out of my head into my word processor.
It may have saved me.
I did finally take that break when I heard the helicopters. Helicopters are a common thing in Southern California. Geography and road congestion dictate it. But they are not usually a sign of good things having happened. The police use them to patrol. The fire departments use them to transport persons needing immediate care, usually for trauma. The media use them to cover the story from above. You will know which helicopter is which, because usually the media show up first and “park” high above the area in what can only be likened to a geo-syncronous satellite staying high above a fixed spot.
The man lived on 25th Street in Santa Monica. He was in his Eighty-Sixth year on this planet. The day was overcast and threatened rain, which it later did, when the 1992 Buick LeSabre was backed out of the driveway. Just one-half mile (750 meters) away, across the boundary with the City of Los Angeles formed by 26th Street, was the Brentwood Country Mart with its long-extant contract post office. Mail would have been dispatched from there at the close of the day, at 5pm or thereabouts.
But the man thought that if he took it to the main Santa Monica Post Office, the card he was mailing to his daughter would be sent on its way sooner. This was further away and he, like many Americans, was of the firm belief, into which they have been conditioned and infra-structurally built, that the only way to make such a journey was via his private automobile. Which he probably would have also done even if he decided to go to Brentwood. Which he did even though there was and still is a Santa Monica-operated bus that runs on Montana Street just ten or so houses away, every fifteen minutes at that time of the day, on which he could have ridden for just twenty-five cents, the “Senior Citizen” fare at the time.
The car is king in Los Angeles and there are large portions of the population who would not dream of traveling by any other means. This has changed somewhat as gasoline has increased sharply in price since and credit, with which cars are usually purchased, has been more restricted. But it was the Summer of 2003 and these new realities had not arrived. Organizations who lobby for causes important to the elderly in the USA were still Ignoring the Bull in Society’s China Shop.
I hope that today at 1:47pm (20:47 GMT) you will join me and take a moment to remember the lives of all ten people pictured on this page. Exactly ten years ago their lives ended just because they were at a Farmer’s Market on a closed street and a man, one whose family knew he was no longer fit to operate a motor vehicle, felt he still had the absolute right to travel via automobile. Just like many still do today.
Should you not wish to read the details of the massacre, stop here.
Having posted the card at the main post office on Fifth Street north of Arizona Avenue, the man got back into his Buick and headed for his next destination, probably back home. He would have been able to travel along Arizona Avenue to Fourth Street, where a small “Road Closed” sign would have prohibited travel further west. At this point he man’s Buick hit a Mercedes Benz but failed to immediately halt. Instead the man used his Buick to push the Mercedes out of the way and then began to accelerate his car down Arizona Avenue into the Farmer’s Market. He traveled 995 feet (303 m) at speeds of over 60 miles per hour (100 km/h). It was over in seconds. One witness said “People were being dragged under his car,”…“You could see the body parts dangling out. The whole thing was like a scene out of ‘Dante’s Inferno.’ I first heard an explosion and then I saw a body fly up in the air.”
The car finally stopped reportedly because a victims body-part blocked the movement of a mechanical component of the Buick’s undercarriage. Nine were dead on site, a tenth died in hospital, and dozens were injured.
And as he stepped out from behind the wheel on the last car he would ever drive, the man was heard to exclaim: “Why didn’t you get out of my way?”