There was a terrible two-car accident in Jacksonville Sunday night that left two teens dead and five other people hospitalized with serious injuries. Around 8:30 p.m., a Chevy Silverado going north on Phillips Highway near the Avenues Mall collided with a southbound private ambulance turning left near Interstate 95. The truck's driver, 19-year-old Michael Linder, and his 18-year-old girlfriend Megan Bunn died from injuries sustained in the accident. Florida State Highway troopers told News4Jax that no one in the truck was wearing a seat belt.
I was driving north on Phillips Highway at the same time as the teens, and at around 8:30 I was turning onto Southside Boulevard no more than 1,200 feet before the intersection where the crash occurred. I didn't see or hear a collision. When I returned to the highway 30 minutes later after an errand, the road was completely shut down and police and ambulances were all over the place.
Megan Bunn had an active MySpace page with lots of pictures of a person just getting started in her life. One titled Me and You is presumably her and Linder. The page records her last login as 11/29/2009, the day of the accident. One of her recent status messages reads "my life makes me laugh till the day im dead."
The cause of Sunday's crash has yet to be determined. The ambulance driver has reportedly told police he had a green light when he turned and the damage to the truck indicates that it must have been going pretty fast. Police are looking for eyewitnesses, but I did not notice any vehicles driving in an unusual manner.
I used to read about tragedies like this and see myself in the participants. Now I think more about how my oldest son is two years from legal driving age. I don't know how parents muster the courage to send their children out in motor vehicles. When you are a teen, it's difficult to let go of the idea that you are indestructible. I'm a neurotic person with a highly developed sense of caution, but at age 18 I can recall being stupid a few times behind the wheel. One incident in particular -- when I was leaving the Starck Club in Dallas and had a near-miss accident on Interstate 30 in the middle of the night -- convinced me to never drink as much as a single beer if I'm going to be driving. My heart goes out to the families of the people involved in this accident.
The First Coast News story I linked contains a lot of unkind speculation from readers, which seems to be the norm on newspaper and TV station web sites. I don't understand why there's so little humanity in the reader forums of local media. Even though several friends of Been and Linder have participated in the discussion, it hasn't stopped some people from being incredibly cruel.
Media sites attract vicious commenters. When my college friend Bill Muller died two years ago, he was the longtime film critic for the Arizona Republic and the paper ran a feature obituary about his many accomplishments in journalism. Here's the first comment it received, which is still online today:
While my sincere condolences go out to Mr. Muller's family & friends, it is my greatest hope that the paper will replace him with a film "critic" who actually LIKES movies that normal people go to see rather than the "artsy-craftsy" c-r-a-p that always get rave reviews. ...
I don't understand why blogs like this one attract kinder communities than the ones on local newspapers, where the audience is an actual community. You'd think people would be nicer to their neighbors.
I'm glad someone is thinking about this. Our local paper's comment section is often a cesspool of mean-spiritedness, and stands in stark contrast to the normally non-confrontational nature of people around here. Comments are moderated, which means that someone on staff feels it is acceptable to continue to let the stuff through. Should the paper strive to hold itself to a higher level by being more selective in what gets through, or would that reek of censorship? (Ironically enough, a comment of mine pointing this out never saw the light of day.)
I also think that allowing anonymous comments leads to a degradation in quality. But it does cast a wider net of participation than may otherwise be the case with registered accounts. Page views trump all.
Local papers' comments are always a cesspool of mean-spiritedness, mainly because they attract the lowest common denominator. A cross-section reads the paper, but average, literate people don't feel the need to comment trivally on every little thing that passes by - possibly because they have more of a voice elsewhere. What's left are the semiliterate, the unsocialized, and those with a bone to pick, which is where most newspaper comments come from. You forget that they have to BOTHER to come to sites like yours, whereas the local paper is something most everybody checks out.