Making some sense of the nonsensical
On July 29, 2005 at 7:38 am I was right in the middle of my commute to work. And I was on foot.
That summer, I was working as an editor at National Public Radio in Washington, and I was riding the DC Metro from Clarendon, Virginia into town. At that precise moment, I was walking quickly down a city street in Chinatown.
It was a far different commute than I was used to…it’s usually a 25-mile drive down country roads, past strip malls, and into Hartford from my home in Winsted.
After a morning meeting at NPR, and several newspapers, I saw an alert come up on my computer screen about a new, urgent story hitting the wires in Avon, Connecticut.
I felt sick, and guilty that I wasn’t there.
The story said that an out-of-control dump truck had careened down Avon Mountain on Route 44, causing a fiery crash, and killing four people. Before I called the newsroom at WNPR – I walked outside the building, and called my wife.
She doesn’t travel that part of the road – she’s a teacher in New Hartford – but like we all remember on September 11th, you call, just to make sure everyone’s safe.
She was safe, but she was crying. She’d just found out that “Chip” Stotler, the father of five of her students, had died in the crash. I couldn’t believe what she was saying.
Their big family was such a part of life at the school, there was a sign near the front door that read “Stotler Parking.” Of all the people, I thought…why the hell would it be Chip?
Every single thought I had was – how I wished I was back home.
Then I realized something. If I had been home there…I would have made that commute. If I wasn’t standing on a street corner in Washington at 7:38…I would have been sitting in a car, right next to Chip.
Mark Robinson was there…in his car at the base of the mountain.
His book, Smoke Fire and Angels, recounts the day of the accident and the aftermath. We talked to Robinson about making sense of a tragic accident…and what changes it’s prompted. He cited legislative "loopholes" that allowed a trucking company with more than a thousand outstanding violations to not only continue to operate - but collect more than $1 million in state contracts. His book really isn't just about that, though...it's about the people who were affected. The families whose lives were changed.
We also talked to Tom Condon of The Hartford Courant – about what this accident can teach us about how we react and rebuild after tragedy in Connecticut. He brought up lessons learned from the Mianus River Bridge collapse in the 1980s.
We’ll also got a status update from the DOT on the ongoing, massive changes to a very dangerous roadway. It's expected to be completed at the end of 2010, and cost somewhere around $15 million. After literally moving a mountain, and holding up traffic for years - many callers and our panelists wondered, will it really stop another accident like this from happening?