Guest Editorial: Robbed of Life
It is still hard for me to discuss though it was nearly two years ago: The night my 27-year-old son, Josh, was killed by an intoxicated hit-and-run driver.
Josh had been visiting some relatives for dinner that night. It was during some of the darkest days of the pandemic — February 6, 2021 — and a new and less-remarked-upon threat was emerging: a surge in reckless driving. In 2021, traffic deaths saw their highest single-year jump ever in recorded history, reaching their highest point in 16 years.
Josh had been living in Los Angeles for more than a decade, pursuing a music career and thriving. Every mother boasts about their child. But I’ll never forget the way Josh lit up the room when he walked into it. A graduate of USC, Josh was an extraordinary musician, a serial entrepreneur, and most impressive was his humility, kindness and thoughtfulness.
The night my life changed forever and my family was shattered, a driver who was fleeing house arrest for DUI in Texas was speeding through a residential zone. He ran three lights before killing Josh. The driver did not stop. It wasn’t until the following day I learned that my son had no chance of survival.
The root word for bereavement in Latin, I have since learned, means to be robbed.
Mounting traffic deaths, it turns out, is another bitter side effect of a pandemic, and some of the social disorder that accompanied it. The suffering that I have experienced, the trauma of being robbed of a loved one under these circumstances, has touched thousands of families, with little publicity and public outcry. This rising aggression on our roadways is robbing us of people we love.
During the pandemic years, mortality among young adults rose to a height not seen since 1953. The rise was driven not as much by COVID, which was less likely to be deadly for people under 35 (never rising among the risk they face from car crashes in a typical year). Increased mortality was instead driven largely by a surge in sudden violent injury, typically from car crashes and gun violence.
I’m not the same person I was before the night Josh was killed. But in the year-plus since, I have had an opportunity to learn some things. Until my family was affected, for example, I never knew traffic crashes were preventable. That we have the tools to reduce them. It never occurred to me to be concerned that we weren’t doing enough to protect each other from this threat.
Losing Josh has opened my eyes to how traffic deaths are linked to institutional injustice and public indifference. Engineers cite concerns about too many “seconds of delay” to car travel as the barrier to proven design solutions that make streets safer. Politicians at City Halls and State Houses ignore proven countermeasures that can save lives. For instance, in California, communities are banned from using speed safety cameras, and have to jump through various complicated legal hoops to lower speeds for safety. One of the things that keeps me going is working to honor Josh’s life, by sharing his music and doing other good works in his memory.
November 20, my family and friends will be hosting a little vigil for Josh in Los Angeles. It coincides with World Day of Remembrance, an international demonstration to increase the visibility of the enormous toll of car crashes. Dozens of similar demonstrations are planned in cities and small towns across the country.
We’ll be meeting at 11 a.m. at the crash site: Hollywood Boulevard and Wilcox. The musical group Rosebud will be performing.
Change starts with recognizing the problem. We have to get back to taking care of each other. There’s a role for us to play as drivers, remember the high-stakes responsibility that driving is. But more importantly, we are asking our political leaders to recommit to the city’s Vision Zero Goal: zero deaths by 2025, the deadline is approaching and we are woefully behind. It will take political courage to make the kinds of minor changes to our streets that are needed. And it will take compassion from the public. But the price of our inaction is unbearable.
Lori Markowitz is a co-founder and boardmember of the The Josh Fund, which was created in order to honor Joshua Samuel Markowitz’s legacy and love for music.