Albuquerque Journal’s Matt Reisen this morning has the latest surrounding the walking death of 12-year-old Eliza Almuina a year ago tomorrow. He reports that 76-year-old Revi Pexa has been indicted on a charge of “reckless driving” in the death.
The story includes the following quote and observation from someone at the District Attorney’s Office:
“It ends up being a careless driving, horrible accident, but it wasn’t reckless,” said Michael Patrick of the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office. “He wasn’t doing it with intent.”
He said, through a lengthy investigation, it was discovered Pexa was going 2 mph over the 35 mph speed limit when he swerved into the right lane to avoid hitting a car stopped in the left lane.
Not much to add to Mr. Reisen’s story, other than to note the use of the word “accident” by Mr. Patrick above, and to pass along my continued wonder that Mr. Pexa had not been charged earlier. Reviewing 2017-2018 deaths to Burqeuans trying to walk our roadways, crash and investigatory reports on Ms. Almunia’s death seemed to indicate this was no accident. Here’s the conclusion from the initial investigation completed this past August (names of others indirectly involved redacted by BB):
Words matter, “accident” and “swerve” included. Mr. Pexa’s repeated swerving, compounded with further investigation that found him exceeding the speed limit (as reported by Mr. Reisen) when he first started swerving, certainly doesn’t fit the definition of “accident.” Or does it?
- (a) An unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance; (b) lack of intention or necessity
- (a) an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance [example: a traffic accident]; (b) [medical] an unexpected and medically important bodily event especially when injurious; (c) [law] an unexpected happening causing loss or injury which is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person injured but for which legal relief may be sought.
Understanding that the case of Mr. Pexa and Ms. Almuina is about death and culpability, not lexicography, it is of secondary consideration that we also ponder the use and meanings of words. Still, as word meaning emanates from actual usage instead of proscribed dictates from on-high (here’s more on that), what is being argued by those (including myself) who do not see cases of speeding, poor roadway design, or nonexistent enforcement as “accidents” is that “carelessness or ignorance” is, at some level, intentional.
Note also the legal definition above, one which includes “unexpected happening.” Thus, what is and isn’t an “accident” is something of a definitional mess, both generally and legally, particularly when it comes to “traffic accidents.” Stepping back as a detached descriptivist grammarian, one merely observes and revels in the ever-changing evolution/devolution of the language. It’s fun.
But we can’t step back and merely observe when it comes to people being killed. We need to proscribe what “a traffic accident” means, and that meaning must reflect a fundamentally different way of looking at traffic’s “Three Es” (Engineering, Enforcement, Education), as well as speeding and other driving behaviors that lead to “accidents.”
This necessary paradigmatic shift (and sorry for all the big words today), summed up in the simple expression/hashtag “crash, not accident” will have legal impact, through eventual legal precedence, but it’s greatest change will be on how our community and world views traffic-related injuries and deaths.
Being a bit of an amateur lexicographer, and gambler, myself, I’m gonna put an over/under on it. I’ll set the line at *20 years: i.e., in the next twenty years Merriam-Webster will lose its current use of “traffic accident” as example for
- (a) an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance [example: a traffic accident]
Far more importantly, yet intertwined, the paradigmatic shift that leads to Merriam-Webster doing this will also lead to reconstructing laws/penalties around “careless” & “reckless” driving, and significant strengthening of sentences for those who “swerve” to miss one young person only to hit and kill another.
Because that’s what really matters. In all this esoteric thinking about dictionaries, we sure as Hell can’t forget what happened on March 22, 2018.
*Noting also that “autonomous vehicle” development will/might play an increasingly important role as well