Lakewood Knifing No 'Accident'
by Ari Armstrong, June 26, 2003
Writers for the Denver Post have developed an annoying habit of referring to acts of recklessness, gross negligence, criminality, and sheer stupidity as "accidents."
For instance, when a 15-year-old pointed a loaded gun at his friend's face and pulled the trigger, Karen Rouse described it as a case of a "boy who accidentally shot and killed" somebody (May 12). The headline on a June 24 story claims, "9-year-old's arm nearly severed in auto accident." But Denver Post reporter Brian Crecente reveals the incident was no "accident:" "[A] westbound Thunderbird ran a stop sign at Wyoming Place and slammed into the front corner of the Kia. The Thunderbird left the scene." (Usually somebody other than the reporter writes the headline.)
Also on June 24, a headline in the Denver Post read, "Man dies in body armor accident." But again reporter Kieran Nicholson reports this was no accident: "A 26-year-old man was stabbed to death when he donned a bullet- proof vest and the victim's uncle plunged a knife into his chest to test the body armor, police said." Police spokesperson Steve Davis told Nicholson, "The suspect and victim were trying to demonstrate their belief that this type of protective vest could withstand a knife attack. Obviously that was incorrect." Nicholson adds, "The two men had shared a pint of whiskey, drank beer and smoked marijuana before the fatal demonstration, the affidavit said."
Tillie Fong of the Rocky Mountain News adds, "According to Colorado Bureau of Investigation records, Amando Aranda [the knifeman] has been arrested for a number of crimes in the metro area, including robbery, assault, possession of marijuana, disturbing the peace and firing a weapon. In 2001, he pled guilty to charges of speeding and driving drunk. He was sentenced to 24 hours of community service, fined and placed on one year of probation." The headline in the Rocky was, "Man dies in staged knifing." Fong's details are important, because most unintentional deaths of this sort involve people who lead basically irresponsible lifestyles.
Unfortunately, neither story clearly reports that kevlar vests are not designed to withstand a blade attack, though Nicholson's story suggests this. I called Davis on June 24, and he confirmed the vest in question was not designed for blade attacks. He said vests with ceramic parts can stop blades, but the vest in question had no such insert. Davis prudently chose not to reveal the manufacturer of the vest, because there's no sense in associating the brand name with an incident that so obviously was not the fault of the manufacturer. We can only wish other police spokespersons would be as prudent in their reporting on firearms.
By using the term "accident" to describe the outcomes of irresponsible and even criminal behavior, the Denver Post (and other publications that make the same error) undermine personal responsibility.
Starting in 1999, the National Safety Council changed the name of its annual publication from Accident Facts to Injury Facts. The Council explained, "The change in the title was made to foster a change in the way people think and act. Some people think that accidents just happen -- that they are due to fate or bad luck and are unavoidable. Research has shown, however, that injuries result from hazardous conditions, which can be corrected, and unsafe behaviors, which can be changed."
The term "unintentional injury" or "unintentional death" is a better substitute for "accident." Very few deaths are truly accidental, in the sense that they are not the result of bad decisions.
At the same time, just about every activity has some degree of risk. Driving, however safely it is done, still carries with it some risk. So there is plenty of room for the designation of "accident." Hopefully, the Post (and other publications) will begin to use the term "accident" accurately. And when something is the result of negligence or criminality, hopefully the Post will use appropriate language to describe the reality of the situation.