|Lacey Unger and Cole Cassens|
“Couple dies in Easter car crash.” The headline was stark and the picture heartbreaking. Cole Cassens sports a broad grin, posing cheek to cheek with his fiancée. Lacey Unger looks more like a teenager than a talented 28 year old teacher. She has always been wispy and delicate. I have known her since she was 10 years old; her mother Penny Leone is a dear friend. I saw Penny on Easter morning and she told me how happy she was about the upcoming wedding and what a good man Lacey had found in Cole.
Young people aren’t supposed to die, especially not young people that you know personally. An extra layer of sorrow is added when a young man and woman looking forward to beginning their married life together are instead united for eternity at a double funeral. It’s like Romeo and Juliet, except there is no plot to this tragedy, just profound sorrow and helplessness.
Every year in the United States 37,000 people die in traffic accidents and countless others are permanently injured. As a society we tolerate this carnage because we passionately love our automobiles. We love the freedom to go wherever and whenever we want, and we want to get there fast. We all know that driving can be dangerous, but we convince ourselves that we can handle it, that we are better-than-average drivers. Wear your seat belt, obey the speed limit, don’t drink and drive, don’t talk on the phone (too much), and everything will be fine. Anonymous people may be killed in accidents but it won’t happen to me.
In truth you take your chances in a diabolic lottery every time you get behind the wheel. You may be following the rules, but the driver coming towards you could be on the phone, or ill, or drunk, and could suddenly and without warning turn his vehicle into a cruise missile aimed directly at you and there is nothing you can do about it. Lacey and Cole weren’t drunk. They were wearing seat belts. They were driving below the speed limit on a straight road going through a green light when another car unexpectedly turned left, hitting their car and spinning them into a pole. One minute you are driving home from a happy family gathering and the next minute you are dead.
Lacey’s mom Penny is a nurse and a grief counselor at her church, but nothing prepared her for the overwhelming grief of Lacey’s death. I know it’s a pipe dream, but maybe we could all pause a moment and rethink our love affair with cars. Do we have to drive so much, so fast, so aggressively? Does Texas need to have the highest speed limits in the nation? Can we provide economical and convenient taxi services for elderly people so they can live independently without driving? Could trains or buses take some of us to Austin, so we don’t have to fly in tight formation on IH 35? At the very least can we promise to never, ever text while driving?
We can certainly put a protected left turn arrow on the light at Sun City.
Lacey and Cole were victims of a terrible accident. Nothing can change that. But if we decide to stop accepting the sacrifice of so many thousands of lives on the altar of convenient transportation, maybe we could save some other young couple. Today, while there is still time, hug somebody you love. And drive carefully.