Editor's Log: Tragedy Can Create Positive Change

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | April 2013, Vol. 68 No. 4

I was with the police chief when a call came in of a major, two-car accident on the outskirts of town with multiple deaths. The accident had occurred at dusk so when we reached the site, portable lights and headlights cast an eerie series of shadows across emergency crews as they were just beginning to remove bodies from the twisted wreckage of what used-to-be two pick-up trucks.

And then we saw a horrific site – emergency workers were pulling children out of one of the pick-ups. First the body of a six-year old little girl was laid out on the cold, dark asphalt followed by her eight- and ten-year old sisters. Next was their mother, six-months pregnant (the fetus had died instantly as well). And finally, the family dog was laid out in the row of bodies.

As we watched the jaws-of-life try to extract the dead body of the driver of the other vehicle, the story began to emerge. A husband and wife were taking a Girl Scout troop on a camp-out. The husband was driving a large van with seven girls while his wife was following in their pick-up with supplies and daughters. A drunk driver almost hit the lead van. The husband spun off to the side of the road. He and the seven Girl Scouts watched in horror as the drunk did a torpedo run into the family pick-up. They saw their friends and family die.

And while I readily admit that I did my share of ill-advised, liquor-related mischief in my younger days, since that accident more than 27-years ago, I never drink and drive and I’ve consistently advocated alcohol and drug testing. Viewing those bodies lying in a row on the asphalt fundamentally changed me. Just as the death of Nick Stavropoulos’ daughter change him.

Stavropoulos asked the question to himself after his tragic experience: where do I go from here? He got his answer and is making a powerful case for reform at PG&E as well as setting a positive example for all people in the underground construction and rehabilitation industry. We can only hope that our industry will take such stories to heart without suffering the brutal examples of death.