By Record Editor/Publisher Laurie Ezzell Brown
OVER THREE YEARS have passed since the last fatal highway accident in Hemphill County. On Tuesday, that ended with the death of an Oklahoma man, whose vehicle veered off the highway a half-mile north of town, and collided head-on with a tree.
Several other drivers witnessed the erratic driving that preceded the accident. Some stopped, hoping to render aid when the pickup burst quickly into flames. Others called to report the accident, ensuring the quick response of law enforcement officials and volunteer firefighters and emergency medical providers. Their calls hastened efforts to secure the area and to rescue the victim—difficult work that continued without interruption, until the fire was out, the body recovered, the roadway cleared, the investigation completed.
Nothing can lessen the tragedy of sudden and senseless death for the victim’s family and friends. Nothing can lessen their heartbreak or ease their pain.
Many lives were touched by the violent death of this young man. Those of the first responders, who tried in vain to save him. Those of the law enforcement officials, who worked to keep others on that roadway safe.
Those of the investigators, who gathered evidence and listened to eyewitness reports. Those of the witnesses themselves, some of whom were stricken with guilt that they were not able to do more to help, and who are unlikely to forget what they saw.
Many of us thought of the victim’s family—the horror still ahead for them. Some thought, as well, of our own families and loved ones, wondering how we might keep them safe from similar tragedy. And as word of the accident spread, so, too, did our prayers—both silent and spoken—for all whose lives would be altered by loss.
Covering news that is at once so public and so personal is never easy. As reporters and photographers, we are always conscious of the impact our words and images will have, of the visceral knowledge they will convey, the emotion they will evoke.
More than one life was affected by this week’s accident. More than one life was placed at risk. It is that knowledge that drives the responsibility we feel: to be present, to stand witness, to report not only the immediate danger, but also the extraordinary human effort involved in responding to such a tragic event, the many lives that are set in motion, the terrible toll it ultimately takes, and the heed we all should pay.
There are rules—written and unwritten—that we follow when reporting the news. Never are they more critical than when human life is involved. And never do we minimize the impact or take for granted the significance of what we do.
We, too, serve the public need: to be informed and aware; to understand the sometimes difficult jobs our public officials perform; to remain ever mindful of the consequences of even the simplest act of human carelessness or kindness.
We remain committed to that service and to accurately reporting the news of our community—even, and especially, when that news is difficult to hear.