Tuesday, May 28, 2013

By Any Other Name

Roadside memorial for Livingston "Liv" Pangburn, age 22

A heartfelt tribute has appeared on the site of the terrible truck vs bicycle accident that took the life of a promising 22 year old on Sunday late afternoon just off the entry to Amherst College on always busy Rt 9, probably made more so by Amherst College commencement functions that same day. 

I could tell by the original response of the first Amherst police officer on the scene that it was bad ... really bad.

So I continued to send out live updates as I heard them over the scanner and got to the scene less than an hour after the incident to (carefully) photograph the intensive investigation.

By 7:42 p. m. when I was first to publish (beyond simple updates on Twitter) the awful news, I could not get two reliable sources to confirm the accident was indeed fatal, so I held off on that ever so final piece of information.  Even though I was convinced of the awful truth.

Much later that night MassLive.com covered the story and early next morning the Memorial Day print edition of the Daily Hampshire Gazette had it on the front page.   But both of them had used the wrong name and gender for the victim based on information supplied by the District Attorney's office, normally what you consider a "reliable source."

Since the DAs office is considered ultra reliable and since the information they were providing was after hours "breaking news," safe to say neither of the established mainstream media outlets bothered to corroborate the name of the victim with a second source.  

Because friends  and family of Livingston "Liv" Pangburn would most certainly would have told them about how he would wish to be remembered.  

Kind of like the epic mistake made by too many mainstream media outlets covering the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where early widely circulated reports misidentified the brother as the shooter.  

Being first has always been an important motivator for journalists -- especially now with the ability for instant online publication.

Being right, however, trumps it every time.

In an email to the entire Hampshire College community yesterday Presdient Jonathan Lash avoided pronouns altogether:

"It is with deep sadness I must let the community know that Hampshire student Livingston Pangburn, 11F, died in a bicycling accident in the town of Amherst on Sunday.  Counseling Services will hold walk in hours tomorrow Tuesday May 28 from 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. for those needing support.  We will honor Liv's memory in the fall, when students return to campus."

I'm also told by a Hampshire College professor:

"Hampshire academic records now allow students not only to choose their names (e.g. if they prefer a nickname to their full name etc.) but also include a preferred pronoun: that way, the teacher or administrator does not have to guess, or student does not have to assume the burden of correcting them etc."


Anonymous said...

thank you for your reporting and followup on this story. Even now, the mainstream news media is just catching up.

As an Amherst bicyclist, this death has shaken and saddened me to the core. And I feel greatly for Liv's family and friends, who in addition to dealing with his timely death, have had to deal with the media regarding his name and gender.

Walter Graff said...

It a tough one Larry. Liv was a transgender so the records of this person might hav been confusing at best. Only two years ago some legal records including a minor arrest listed the name as one thing, while today the name is another. Might be why the DA gave it out as it was. Perhaps this was not the legal name of this person as of yet, or perhaps the records of a former name trumped the recent changes. I'm just saying this could be some of the many factors in why it was reported as it was. No one meant any disrespect. And I don't think it was sloppy on anyones part or a rush to get a story out. Every story is in the moment and a rush when it's time to write it up, nature of the beast. You try your best to get the facts and rely on reliable sources to do that. A DA is normally a very reliable source for journalists as you know. And what journalist doesn't want to get it right. Even the local Newton MA news where this person grew up got it wrong.

Anonymous said...

What a person is scientifically or genetically may be different than how they identify with the rest of the world. Give the DA & news outlets a break. The bootm line is that once this issue was brought to light, it was corrected.

Larry Kelley said...

Except the Gazette can't recall the 25,000 copies of their Monday edition.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, this is all about patting yourself on the back. of course, it always is.

kurt geryk said...

Larry always gets out the news that does not contain facts first.

I'm so glad I heard about this tragedy when I did rather than several hours later.

Larry Kelley said...

November 22, 1963. First breaking report: "Shots fired on the Presidential motorcade."

Did not say how many shots, did not say for sure that President Kennedy had been hit.

But it did, somewhat, prepare the nation for the very tragic confirmation that came all too soon thereafter.

Anonymous said...

Transgender. Only in the Republic of Amherst! (or its myriad of liberal clones).

Larry Kelley said...

Actually I think it's becoming more accepted these days, nationwide.

(Kind of like giving women the right to vote.)

Anonymous said...

What an ignorant comment, Anon 2:28Way to go, Larry, for publishing it! Comments like that one should be left on the cutting room floor.

Anonymous said...

anon 2:28, i hear you. confusion of identity is what happens when kids are encouraged to 'find themselves' and all that 1960's tripe. whatever happened to getting a job and just being who you are? in this cookie cutter world, of course kids are gonna take it to the extreme to be different, even 'challenging' society's norms. just get another hoop in your ear and get out of my face, pansy!

Sarah Swartz said...

Do NOT be disrespectful of transgender individuals.
If Livingston knew he was know in his last moments as anything other than the boy he WAS he would have been devastated.
This speaks to why transgender adults should be able to change their sex on their birth certificates even if they do not undergo a complete sex change.
Somewhere on a child or young person's permanent medical records there has to be a CLEAR explanation of their gender and preferred name if they have not legally changed it yet.
Thank you Larry for being sensitive and trying to correct this mistake.
The public only knows Livingston was transgender because of a careless medical leak.
Requiem in peace Livingston, I know you were a boy in the world.

Walter Graff said...

Some may call Larry's interpretations of events biased but have to give him credit. While he's hinted he's not published some responses in the past, he is very fair in allowing people to have a say, whether it fits mainstreams norms or says what many won't say out loud. Good that he allows different point of views especially in this political correct world where one is not permitted to say anything anymore without someone feeling like a target.

Walter Graff said...

"The public only knows Livingston was transgender because of a careless medical leak."

No, the public knows because in the 390 pictures on this person's Facebook page there are many of a transgender rights protest in Washington that this person attended along with other notable things.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if people spent less time concerned with the gender identity of the late bicyclist and more time familiarizing ourselves with the "blind spots" of trucks and why being on the right side of a truck is such an incredibly dangerous area to be, we might help repeat a tragedy of this sort from happening to anyone of any gender.

Anonymous said...

Do not stop at an intersection on the right side of a truck.

Do not linger next to a truck on any side, in any lane.

If a truck passes you, slow down and let it get ahead of you ASAP.

If you are in a bike lane and passing stopped traffic, do not pass a truck unless you can be clear of it before approaching any intersections or driveways and before traffic begins moving again.

Or, just don’t pass a truck on the right at all. And be cautious when passing on the left, too.

Anonymous said...

Part 1
Attention bicyclists:

Know how you worry about being "doored" -- someone suddenly opening a car door into your path, with you having no way of avoiding the inevitable collision?

Truck drivers feel the same way about you.

A right turn with a large truck is almost like threading a needle. Do it wrong and you will take down the streetlight or snag a parked car with your rear axle -- it's easy enough to do.

And suddenly a bicyclist shoots by -- suddenly appearing out of nowhere and you say to yourself where the f*** did he come from>?!?!?!? --- and are there any more of them....

It's the same "but for the Grace of God" thing as someone opening a car door far enough ahead of you that you are able to avoid it -- but still get a good scare.

1: If you can't see the driver's head, he/she/it can't see you. Even if you can see the right or left rear-facing mirror, unless you can actually see the driver's head from where you are, the mirror isn't going to let him see you.

Even if he looks. Do you always? Enough said?

2: When you are turning right, be it with a bicycle, car, or 50-ton truck, you only look left ONCE. You check for oncoming traffic and then you make your turn -- and you assume that any cars that come along *as* you are turning are going to stop because they kinda have to -- you are blocking the road.

While a bicycle is narrow enough to get through, it is incredibly stupid to do so. Also rather inconsiderate, particularly if you want to have truckers respecting the rights of bicyclists.

3: It also is quite inconsiderate to run red lights, go the wrong way and otherwise ignore the vehicular rules. The need for an orderly and predictable roadway where everyone has some idea of what everyone else is going to do isn't fascist, it's common sense.

4: Likewise, if there are vehicles behind you and unable to pass because the road is too narrow -- or a truck unable to pass even though the cars did -- you really want to whatever is necessary (including stopping if necessary) to let the vehicles go.

This is the law in most states -- it is called "impeding traffic" and any vehicle (bicycle or truck) is *required* to pull over & stop if going less than the posted speed with vehicles backing up behind.

It's also common sense -- if you have 4-5-6 cars behind you, eventually someone in the back will attempt to pass EVERYONE and you then will have a nasty mess should an oncoming vehicle appear.

Does everyone riding a bicycle exercise good judgment? Why then presume that everyone driving a truck does?

Anonymous said...

Part 2 of 2

5: A truck, even with properly adjusted brakes and not overloaded, takes an incredibly long distance to stop. The distance from Hastings to either traffic light downtown is about what a *loaded* truck needs for a normal/comfortable stop at the speeds one would drive on Amherst streets.

If the brakes aren't properly adjusted, if the truck is heavier than it should be, it takes longer to stop. Likewise if the driver isn't paying attention (we're human to) and/or half asleep (one can legally drive 10 hours and/or 500 miles per day -- many drive a lot more) it's longer before the truck even starts to stop.

Everybody tends to hallucinate when sufficiently deprived of sleep. After you have seen a half dozen bicycles in front of you that weren't there, it's easy enough to not react in time to the one that actually is. I was also once told at a safety conference that being tired is actually worse than being drunk -- that your reflexes and judgement will be worse.

Presume that the truck simply isn't going to be able to stop suddenly. Presume the person driving it is half asleep. And lost, and distracted and everything else...

6: The brakes on a truck are only a secondary means of stopping. You can't use them the way you would on a car or bicycle because they would overheat -- literally catch fire -- and then you are in serious trouble.

You slow a truck by downshifting (engine braking) or by using a "Jake Brake" -- in either case, if the truck starts making more noise, presume that it is slowing/stopping even if you don't see brake lights.

If you don't bring a truck to almost a complete stop before making a sharp right turn, you likely will send everything in the back flying if not roll the truck over -- both are bad -- and a truck slowing down/stopping *may* mean that it is going to turn right.

It may also mean that the truck is going to BACK UP and to the right, which is incredibly stupid but some guys do it. (When backing into a driveway, if you go to your left, you can see out the driver's window -- if you go to the right, you are going into your blind spot.)

Passing a stopped truck on the right, without KNOWING that it isn't in the process of turning right, is suicidal.

7: If a truck traveling at the speed of traffic puts on the 4-way (hazard) flashers, it is an urgent warning for everyone behind to immediately slow down -- the driver is warning everyone else that either (a) "I am slowing down because of what I see ahead" or (b) "I am in serious trouble myself."

It is a warning that all traffic may suddenly stop (or may actually be stopped ahead) or that the truck itself may suddenly do things completely unexpected. The truck may make a sudden lunge for the shoulder as the driver attempts to get it off the road while he still can.

You don't know how much control he has over it -- or if he even has brakes anymore. And if a truck with the 4-ways on comes up fast behind you, particularly as you are going down a hill, get out of the way at all costs because the vehicle most likely has no brakes and is out of control. This is particularly true if you see smoke coming from any of the wheels.

In some circumstances, the driver's best option is a controlled crash. An out-of-control truck is going to continue increasing in speed and he has a better chance of surviving the crash and better chance of not killing others if he does something now. Something like scraping a guard rail, bogging down in a swampy area, or going into the woods -- this is not a good situation.

If you are in front of him on a bicycle, he is neither going to be able to avoid you nor even try -- you will be dead. You need to get out of his way at all costs -- even if you get hurt doing so.

Anonymous said...

I watched a couple of teenagers fly through the main intersection of town today, no helmets, no hands on the handlebars, wrong side of road, no idea what the lights said. It made me shudder. I'm sure everyone who drives a car has seen similar.

It's backwards how we require so much of our drivers while anyone can cruise through the streets on a much more dangerous vehicle: even a ten year old can fly through the center of town on a bike, breaking every rule, and we do nothing.

Are bicycles used for commuting on our road vehicles subject to rules and regulations or not?

(I believe the young person who got killed was operating properly, but cyclists are rarely cited so I really don't know. I'm sure the driver is subject to a lengthy investigation, however, to make sure he was doing everything properly, was operating within the law, including not being high or drunk.)

How about inspection sticker for bicycles? How about if you're going to use a bike on the streets for transportation, you have to pass a test that proves you know the rules of the road for cyclists? How about an excise tax for bicycles using the privilege of our roads for commuting? Insurance in the event it is the cyclists fault in an accident?