The Critical Mass

Mind if a shoot a video of you getting hurt or killed?

Perhaps her vision was obscured a bit by the slight, misting rain. Could have just been carelessness. Maybe she was drunk or high, a lot of people in that neighborhood seem to be staggering around by 4:30 or 5 in the afternoon. But 20 yards in front of my car, a woman stepped off the sidewalk and began trotting across the street in front of me. She made it across the first lane, then my lane, then was obscured by the blue SUV slightly ahead of me in the turning lane to my left. I thought: She’s not gonna make it…..

And she didn’t.

The SUV skidded to a stop, I heard a dull thud and, through the SUV’s windows, I saw the woman bounce into the air, spin around and come down on the front of the vehicle and disappear again. I hit the brakes. A dozen cars going both ways on Lake Avenue near Ravine Street – a stretch notorious for jaywalkers – did the same. I jumped out of the car. “Get ready,” I told myself. “This is going to be bad.”

I sprinted to the SUV, later realizing I hadn’t even checked for traffic myself. A handful of people had already reached the car. The driver had helped the woman to her feet and sat her on the front seat of the car, feet on the sidewalk. It didn’t look as bad as I’d prepared myself for, but I could see a huge welt was erupting on the side of her face, around her left eye. “You shouldn’t move!” a guy was yelling at the victim. “You shoulda stayed on the street!” The woman just sat, looking dazed.

“Someone call 911!” the woman who had been driving was yelling. I give her all the credit in the world for getting her car stopped, or this would have been a lot worse.

Call 911…. I don’t have a cell phone. Oh, the company gave me one, which I’m supposed to use to shoot videos, but as usual I didn’t have it anywhere at hand. In fact, I’d left it sitting on my desk when I left the office a few minutes earlier. A couple of people did seem to be fishing through pockets and purses for their cell phones.

“Someone get that cop!” a bystander shouted. Yes, there was a cop car about 30 yards away. It had been parked there during this whole episode. I could see the officer sitting inside the car. Didn’t he know what was going on here? I started walking toward him. Another guy got there first, talking through the open car window, pointing at the scene of the accident. Now I could see the cop was talking on his radio, probably calling for an ambulance. He seemed pretty relaxed about it, but it seemed like a good thing that he was calling an ambulance. Yet it had been at least a minute since the accident, and I kind of wondered why he hadn’t jumped out of his car and run to the scene, like the rest of us did. That woman might have needed some immediate help.

The victim still looked dazed. Maybe she had a concussion, some internal injuries. I’m no doctor. I walked around to the front of the car. Pieces of plastic from the SUV were lying on the street.

I went back to my car. It was blocking traffic. Better move. I got in and started to pull way. There were a lot of people standing around. Plenty of witnesses. They didn’t need me. I kept going.

As I’m driving, the ambulance comes whining down Lake Avenue, heading to the scene. I suddenly think: Did I just leave the scene of an accident?

I’d seen a man get hit by a car once before, although it wasn’t as bad as this. It was last year, downtown again, on a nearly empty street one Sunday morning. I saw a guy standing outside his car on the other side of the intersection where we were both stopped for a red light. Suddenly the car behind him lurched forward and tore around the guy, knocking him into his car, passing so close it tore off both cars’ side-view mirrors and left a long set of scrapes on the sides of the two vehicles. I caught the first half of the license plate number as he zoomed through the intersection, then jumped out of my car and ran over to the guy. The back of his pants were ripped open and a scrape on his calf was bleeding, but he seemed more pissed than anything else. “Did you see that?” he yelled. Yes, I said, I saw that. I didn’t have a cell phone to call the cops. And the guy didn’t seem inclined to call the cops. I had a feeling there was more to this story than a mere hit-and-run. I wrote down the partial license-plate number and my phone number, “in case you need a witness,” I said. Then I left. No one ever called.

I’ve seen a couple of deer get hit by cars over the years. You hear the dull thud, they go up in the air and spin around and come down. Kind of like that woman on Lake Avenue.

This morning I’m sitting at my desk in the office and check the Metro section of the newspaper and the local news web sites. No mention of a woman getting hit by a car on Lake Avenue. I go on, one of the sites I check every morning. I pause at a story: “WATCH: Grown Idiots Fight Each Other Over Parking Spot.” I click on it and watch a cell phone video of Two Grown Idiots Fighting Each Other Over a Parking Spot. There’s always a handful of these citizen-journalist videos to watch every morning, just in case you haven’t see enough real-life lunacy that day.

And I always wonder: What kind of person is it who comes across a fight or a person falling off a subway platform into the path of a train and, instead of helping out, shoots a video?

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