Join 3,439 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Jennifer Porter Case
December 28, 2005 8:50 AM   Subscribe

The Hard Road A very engrossing and well written series by three reporters of the St Petersburg Times who spent a year reporting on a hit-and-run case that shocked Tampa. This long, tragic narrative broken into five installments, explores what happened after Jennifer Porter, a quiet, unassuming 28-year-old schoolteacher, ran down four of Lisa Wilkins' children one evening in March 2004. [via]
posted by StarForce5 (91 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is good.
posted by killdevil at 9:23 AM on December 28, 2005


Agreed. A well written and interesting, albeit sad, story.
posted by chunking express at 9:30 AM on December 28, 2005


I just spent an hour plus reading that whole thing. Mixed emotions. And I really, really would like to know the details of Lisa Wilkins' settlement. The reporting was very balanced, too.
posted by TeamBilly at 10:10 AM on December 28, 2005


Sad and scary; thanks for the link.
posted by carter at 10:15 AM on December 28, 2005


My God, that was so engrossing and well-done (albeit incredibly sad). Thanks so much for this link.
posted by kokogiak at 10:39 AM on December 28, 2005


The St. Petersburg Times also had an extremely engrossing, disturbing series on the murder of the Rogers family (prepare to waste another hour on this.) I wish more local papers would do in-depth reporting like this. I think that a lot of people see two alternatives in what the media choose to focus on — big serious important international issues or Scott Peterson's mistress — and this kind of coverage shows that good local crime journalism can be worthwhile in and of itself.
posted by transona5 at 10:50 AM on December 28, 2005


Thank you for this.
posted by ltracey at 10:59 AM on December 28, 2005


Complex and engrossing. Pulitzer contention? Go St. Pete Times. Thank you for the link.
posted by rainbaby at 11:05 AM on December 28, 2005


You know I'm reminded of an exchange I had on Kuro5hin a while back, before it sucked.

This guy was talking about driving through the ghetto with an Indian woman, and how he told her "if you hit someone, just keep driving" the idea that these ghetto people would just shoot her if she ran into someone. I bet the woman in the story thought the same thing.

He posted that in response to a story by a Bangladeshi talking about nearly starting a riot when his friend hit a poor motorcyclist with his BMW out in the boonies, and how there was nearly a Riot which was defused by agreeing to take the motorcyclist to a hospital in their car, the idea being that "things were the same here" because he imagined the same thing happening here.

I wonder how often that advice is given?
posted by delmoi at 11:12 AM on December 28, 2005


Fantastic piece, great post and thanks for bringing it to our attention. That said, it left a bad taste in my mouth. It seems like yet another case of individuals who refused to take responsibility for their actions, or lack thereof, and a legal system that rewards such behavior.
posted by you just lost the game at 11:33 AM on December 28, 2005


Jesus that's grueling. I've only just made it to the last installment, but I feel wrung out. I was initially skeptical because I didn't like how the first article started, I thought it was a bit too artsy, but it's gotten much better. As is always the case with these things, and with good writing, the characters end up seeming larger than life.
posted by OmieWise at 11:33 AM on December 28, 2005


It seems like yet another case of individuals who refused to take responsibility for their actions, or lack thereof, and a legal system that rewards such behavior.

Well, basically. If you "take responsibility" you take responsibility. It would be hazardous for the girl to apologize even if she'd wanted too. I'm still reading though. Just got past the part about her press conference.
posted by delmoi at 11:46 AM on December 28, 2005


Thanks.
posted by dobbs at 11:47 AM on December 28, 2005


Ug. I didn't feel this was balanced at all -- and I'm generally a bleeding-heart liberal.

But, damn, this single mother has six children and another on the way with no apparent means of support -- and now four of her kids, including a 3-year old, are hit by a car on the road in the dark with no adult around. It isn't right.

The driver is every bit as much a victim as the mother. It was a terrible mistake, she deserves jail, but she is also a victim of this terrible accident too. By repeating loaded words like "coward", the article abandons any pretence of balance.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:07 PM on December 28, 2005


lupus: She ceased being a 'victim' when she drove away. Please.
posted by delmoi at 12:10 PM on December 28, 2005


Plus, why the hell was she driving around with her headlights off, listening to music at full blast anyway?
posted by delmoi at 12:11 PM on December 28, 2005


I don't understand your first comment, delmoi.
posted by you just lost the game at 12:19 PM on December 28, 2005


I adore investigative reporting, thank you for this post.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:21 PM on December 28, 2005


delmoi writes "Plus, why the hell was she driving around with her headlights off, listening to music at full blast anyway?"

You mean as evidenced by the testimony of the young child who got hit by a car at the same time? Nowhere in the articles is there evidence that the driver was doing anything neglectful other than travelling too fast. That's why they didn't charge her with vehicular homicide.

I'm not sure what behavior was rewarded here. A mother lost her two children. The driver lost her peace of mind and her job. I buy the woman's story about why she drove away, and I'm not a big trauma advocate. Everything in her life suggests that her subsequent actions were taken through fear and not through malice. Had she come forward immediately she would have likely suffered consequences that she did not deserve. If it seemed like she had been drinking or something, well, I would hope that the pit they tossed her into would be too deep to hear when she hit bottom, but in this case it seems to me like justice was done.
posted by OmieWise at 12:25 PM on December 28, 2005


The driver is every bit as much a victim as the mother. It was a terrible mistake, she deserves jail, but she is also a victim of this terrible accident too. -- Lupus

lupus: She ceased being a 'victim' when she drove away. Please. -- me

I don't understand your first comment, delmoi. -- ygltg

What I mean is, the woman is being vilified for being a hit-and-run driver, not for running into people. Hit and run is a crime, and it's a crime for a good reason. I mean I suppose you could say she's a victim of her own actions, but that's not really how most people use the term.

She was given the opportunity to commit a crime when she ran into those children, and she took it.
posted by delmoi at 12:26 PM on December 28, 2005


You mean as evidenced by the testimony of the young child who got hit by a car at the same time?

Why would a traumatized child make up a detail like that? It was just getting dark, and people often forget to turn their headlights on. It might not even been that negligent, although that might have been why the kids didn't see her in time.

I'm not sure what behavior was rewarded here. A mother lost her two children. The driver lost her peace of mind and her job.

Oh no, not her piece of mind!
posted by delmoi at 12:30 PM on December 28, 2005


lupus: She ceased being a 'victim' when she drove away. Please.
She panicked and left the scene of the accident. This was a terrible mistake, a felony, and she deserves jail, but she is not a deliberate malefactor in the same way that someone who perpetrates a robbery and consequentially kills someone is.

I don't have much patience for vehicular homicide in general, and it needs to be aggressively prevented and sternly punished. But this woman made a terrible mistake and has lost everything for it -- she deserves as much pity as the mother who also made a terrible mistake and financially profited from it (and lost her children, of course. I wish I believed that your average American cared as much about their children as they did about money.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:30 PM on December 28, 2005


I read through the entire series, and I thought that the series accurately portrayed the legal system. Especially the balance between the desire for retribution, from the victim and the community, and the ability to prove the crime, from the prosecution. These factors also appear to have made it particularly difficult for the court to determine an appropriate punishment after the plea deal.

Maybe it was unfair for the article to describe the driver as a "coward." Elsewhere, and pretty consistently, most sources explain her actions as being the product of fear. So maybe "coward" is a bit loaded but not entirely inaccurate. By and large I felt the reporters were striving to present the information with as little value judgment as possible. That's really tough in a case as emotional as this one.

On preview: The crime of hit and run isn't based on the actions of a person prior to a collision. It's based on the actions after the collision. The criminal intent forms when a person makes a decision to leave the scene.
posted by Scooter at 12:33 PM on December 28, 2005


The driver was a victim in the same way the children were.

I think that the mother should have been charged with criminal negligence, and that it was only because of public opinion that she wasn't. The mother was 50% responsible for what happened.

The driver had her headlights off because it was light out (CTE 7:11 pm), and she likes loud music, which many of us do.

I hit a dog once, when I was 17. It was early morning. I was driving too fast on an empty road. I went around a very sharp corner. It was over before I realized what had happened. I turned off the road, felt sick, got over it, went back.

A cop was there, the owners of the dog were there, I apologized. There was nothing I could have done, except drive slower. I shouldn't have driven fast. I drove that road every day. But a dog or a person at dusk in the street unsupervised by an adult... what the hell?

I didn't get a ticket.
posted by ewkpates at 12:36 PM on December 28, 2005


Children are not very good witnesses to stuff, traumatized children less so. I'm not suggesting she made anything up, I'm suggesting that she's unreliable as a witness because of her mental development. It's a completely morally neutral assessment. Did she hear a nurse say, "I bet someone was driving with their lights off and their radio blaring"? Was it that car before Porter's? We just have no idea, but we do know that your suggestion that she was negligent before the accident was not shared by the prosecutors.

As for your peace of mind snark, read the whole series and then see if you feel so free making it. Maybe you will, but, although I don't see Porter as the 'victim' in this case, I do see her as someone whose life was shattered by that accident.

I'm also pretty curious about what became of the white van. I know eye witness testimony is not very reliable, but several people seemed to be convinced that there had been one, and that it had struck the kids first. It's possible they were just remembering the white van that John Allen Mohammed drove.
posted by OmieWise at 12:40 PM on December 28, 2005


lupus: I haven't finished reading the article. But it's totally reasonable of you to conclude that because she's an "american" she would have sold her children off to the grim reaper anyway for however much money she raised, after the funeral expenses of course. I hadn't thought of that, thanks for bringing that point to my attention; it really changes the flavoring of the story. And besides she still has four left, and everyone knows the marginal value after the first three goes down a lot.
posted by delmoi at 12:40 PM on December 28, 2005


I do want to reiterate -- I do think the driver should have gone to jail. I think that America should in general treat inadvertant vehicular homicide a lot more seriously. If people are willing to dismantle the Constitution for one terrorist act that killed 3,000 people in one year, why aren't they willing to crack down on drivers who cause 44,000 deaths each and every year?

The most common cause of accidents is "losing control of the car" -- which nearly almost means that someone is not living up to their responsibility to keep control of a ton of metal that they are propelling at speeds greater than 60 miles an hour. The fact that there isn't a compulsory jail sentence when there's a traffic death and one party is breaking the traffic laws by, say, speeding has always baffled me. Don't you care if people break the law and kill your friends or family?

That said, I'm sorry for people who have made terrible mistakes and destroyed their lives, and I don't see why I should be any less sorry for her than for the mother, who doesn't seem any more responsible than she is.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:41 PM on December 28, 2005


I think that the mother should have been charged with criminal negligence and that it was only because of public opinion that she wasn't. The mother was 50% responsible for what happened.

You don't think a 14 year old is capable of looking after a toddler? When I was growing up most babysitters were 12-14 or so.
posted by delmoi at 12:43 PM on December 28, 2005


ewkpates: The mother was 50% responsible for what happened.

How dare she let her teenage children out to go to the park one block away.

and about it being light out... if it was LIGHT, why didn't she see FOUR CHILDREN on a STRAIGHT EXPANSE OF ROAD, crossing on a crosswalk across from a community center?
posted by setanor at 12:44 PM on December 28, 2005


I'm not sure what behavior was rewarded here...Had she come forward immediately she would have likely suffered consequences that she did not deserve.

What I meant was, Porter and her family escaped any meaningful punishment (i.e. jail time) by painting her as a victim who wasn't responsible for her actions after she hit the children. For the sake of argument I'll go so far as to allow her the benefit of the doubt that her striking the children was a tragic accident that wasn't anyone's "fault". But no matter how much regret and anguish she felt afterwards, she still allowed her parents to move the car inside where it couldn't be seen, clean blood off of it (I don't understand why this wasn't considered tampering with evidence...did I miss a section of the article where this was discussed?), talk her out of calling the cops and send her into work the next day as though nothing had happened, all actions which indicated knowledge of wrongdoing and a desire to evade the consequences of her actions.
posted by you just lost the game at 12:44 PM on December 28, 2005


I refuse to accept that there was no way she could have seen the children in the road. Too many people now have no business driving and have a perverted concept of what being safe while driving an automobile is. If she was driving safely, she would have seen the children. Either they would have been in the road when she saw from a distance (the road was straight), or they would have been waiting in the crosswalk, and it would have been her responsibility to yield to them.
posted by setanor at 12:46 PM on December 28, 2005


i think the pervasive "bad neighborhood" beliefs (often completely overblown) and racist assumptions of what would happen to you, a white woman who just hit a family of black children, have more a part in this story than anyone involved is willing to admit. (and i'm not dismissing the fact that on extremely rare occasion drivers can accidentally cause or inspire out-of-control situations and get hurt... it's just that this can happen once in 25 years hundreds of miles away and never leave the minds of fear-obsessed people.)

what happened the next few days are, IMO, all about numbness and fear of consequences and circling the wagons. but in the initial impact, i think the fear of where she was had some influence on her inability to stop. and i think i can totally understand why she kept driving, how shock can work on you... i just think that that "holding back" that Lisa Wilkins refers to, that nagging feeling that Jennifer Porter is not telling something--i really feel that it's the internal realization and subsequent attempt to deny that racism had a part in her actions. it's too difficult to explain, to admit, to deal with... and thus it doesn't get addressed.

i don't fault the writers for not attempting to get words around it. but i do think it's there.

an excellent series.
posted by RedEmma at 12:46 PM on December 28, 2005


And not to mention my my childhood neighborhoods in Iowa and with my father in Texas were crawling with unattended children of all ages.
posted by delmoi at 12:47 PM on December 28, 2005


BTW: The CJR Daily link I found this article at has 4 other examples of quality local journalism from 2005 for those of us who have 4 more hours to dispense with.
posted by StarForce5 at 12:48 PM on December 28, 2005



That said, I'm sorry for people who have made terrible mistakes and destroyed their lives, and I don't see why I should be any less sorry for her than for the mother, who doesn't seem any more responsible than she is.


Oh I see, you're just an idiot. Sorry for the confusion.
posted by delmoi at 12:49 PM on December 28, 2005


I think that the mother should have been charged with criminal negligence, and that it was only because of public opinion that she wasn't. The mother was 50% responsible for what happened.

Because she let her kids out to play? C'mon. If the bar for "criminal negligence" is set that low, my parents should both be serving consecutive life sentences.
posted by you just lost the game at 12:50 PM on December 28, 2005


(I don't understand why this wasn't considered tampering with evidence...did I miss a section of the article where this was discussed?)

Her parents were promised immunity so that they could be forced to testify. Otherwise the 5th amendment would have protected them. That was in the second article, I belive.
posted by delmoi at 12:52 PM on December 28, 2005


A friend of mine was just bit by a dog a couple of weeks ago. It was an accident and the dog didn't really mean it, but it happened. She wasn't badly hurt, or in very much pain, but she was almost loopy from what we would incorrectly call "shock." I literally had to talk her through all of the steps necessary to show me the bite, get up off the floor, gather her things, and walk downstairs to the car so I could drive her to the hospital. Race and fear may well have played a part in Porter not stopping, but I think a stress reaction was certainly also present.

Of course she's guilty of all the covering up, but I'm pretty willing to see mitigating cirucmstances in that, which I think the judge did as well. She didn't get off freely here, without consequences. I'm not sure why no one charged her family, and why her charge was limited to what it was (rather than to conspiracy to cover something up or something), but it seems to me like she was properly sentenced given the charge before the judge.

setanor-No one else seems to agree with you, from the investigators to the prosecutors. Why are you so sure?
posted by OmieWise at 12:54 PM on December 28, 2005


Because she let her kids out to play? C'mon. If the bar for "criminal negligence" is set that low, my parents should both be serving consecutive life sentences.

Exactly, so would a lot of parents. And the eldest was 14 years old! Most people consider a 14 year old old enough to watch younger children.
posted by delmoi at 12:56 PM on December 28, 2005


I'm not sure why no one charged her family, and why her charge was limited to what it was (rather than to conspiracy to cover something up or something), but it seems to me like she was properly sentenced given the charge before the judge.

Again, the parents were given immunity so that they could be compelled to testify.
posted by delmoi at 12:57 PM on December 28, 2005


omiewise: I'm sure just because it's sensical, which I admit doesn't say much. Still, if you look at the map, the road is straight. If she didn't have her headlights on and it was dark enough to not see the kids, she was at fault for not using her headlights, which could have prevented the colission. If she didn't have her headlights on because it was still light, she would have seen the kids if she had been surveying the road ahead of her. If she did have her headlights on, she should have been driving slow enough knowing that she won't be able to react to something not in the path of her lights. I'm not saying she's entirely at fault, but I'm saying too many people get away with piss-poor driving now as if it's common sense to drive recklessly.
posted by setanor at 12:59 PM on December 28, 2005


Thank you, delmoi. I had forgotten that. I went back and re-read part three, where they answer questions from the investigators, and they still sound extremely disingenuous to me. Their desire to protect their child is understandable, but I don't think they were being entirely honest.
posted by you just lost the game at 1:00 PM on December 28, 2005


Look how straight the road is in both directions. Where were they hiding that she couldn't see them in the road?
posted by setanor at 1:02 PM on December 28, 2005


I got it delmoi, my question was a remnant of Live Preview.

setanor- Ok, but there are just too many other unaswered questions for me, like the possible presence of another car, to feel as sure as you do. Yes, I think people should be more careful driving, and I think that there should be consequences when people aren't, I just don't think that such a highly scutinized case (in which the driver was not charged) is a very good case study for unsafe drivers.
posted by OmieWise at 1:03 PM on December 28, 2005


An, arghh, on perview: the straightness of a road is just one of literally hundreds of factors of topography that could affect the children's visiblity. Notice the trees, for instance.
posted by OmieWise at 1:06 PM on December 28, 2005


And I can understand not wanting to trust the 8 year old's account, but she said quite clearly that she was hit by a car, not a van, and by a woman with brown hair. (Although I suppose in that case it must have been somewhat light out)
posted by delmoi at 1:08 PM on December 28, 2005


Finaly, they really should ahve put a pedestrian's overpass above the road.
posted by delmoi at 1:09 PM on December 28, 2005


Delmoi - those really are rather terrifying places in neighborhoods where there is a lot of crime.
posted by setanor at 1:10 PM on December 28, 2005


I love Thomas French's work...he did a couple really interesting series several years back (they became the books Unanswered Cries and South of Heaven). Thank you for linking this.
posted by SisterHavana at 1:10 PM on December 28, 2005


I used to drive down that street every day.

It's a pretty straight shot, and, at least when I used to drive it, it was only two lanes (one lane in each direction).

I'm not sure how she could have not seen the kids.
posted by bshort at 1:14 PM on December 28, 2005


A very well written piece. A sad, and moving, story.
Thank you for the link.
posted by apocalypse miaow at 1:14 PM on December 28, 2005


delmoi writes "And I can understand not wanting to trust the 8 year old's account, but she said quite clearly that she was hit by a car, not a van, and by a woman with brown hair. "

And she drew everyone with smiling faces, which the reporter quite accurately identifies as age-specific behavior. To do so without also contextualizing the rest of her answers leads to the confusion you seem to be experiencing. I'd be unlikely to take you word for the make of a car if you were run down, I'm certainly leery of the little girl's.
posted by OmieWise at 1:17 PM on December 28, 2005


Change the scenario just a little and see what happens...

The driver swerves to avoid hitting the children... runs into a building and is paralyzed.

The paralyzed driver sues the mother, claiming the children ran out into the street.

Is the mother responsible?

...And 14 isn't old enough for anything.
posted by ewkpates at 1:18 PM on December 28, 2005


Delmoi - those really are rather terrifying places in neighborhoods where there is a lot of crime.

Well, there was a sheriff's office a block or two away, and apparently the 'on-street' presence of criminals had been subdued.
posted by delmoi at 1:18 PM on December 28, 2005


Is the mother responsible?

No. No-one is responsible for anything, ever.
posted by you just lost the game at 1:20 PM on December 28, 2005


Finaly, they really should ahve put a pedestrian's overpass above the road.

There's really not enough room on that street to put a pedestrian overpass.
posted by bshort at 1:22 PM on December 28, 2005


ewkpates: ...And 14 isn't old enough for anything.

Apparently 29 isn't, either.
posted by setanor at 1:24 PM on December 28, 2005


Also, no, the mother would not be responsible.
posted by setanor at 1:24 PM on December 28, 2005


Change the scenario just a little and see what happens...

The driver swerves to avoid hitting the children... runs into a building and is paralyzed.

The paralyzed driver sues the mother, claiming the children ran out into the street.

Is the mother responsible?


Are you fucking kidding? they were on a crosswalk. How could the parents possibly be responsible for someone else running into them, they had the right of way. In most states, pedestrians have the absolute right of way, and the speed in residential districts is 20mph precisely because children play in the street

...And 14 isn't old enough for anything.

That must be why our local hospital offers CPR training to preteen girls who work as babysitters. This is absolutely commonplace. 14 is absolutely old enough to look after children for a few hours in a park.

What was your own childhood like, I wonder. Your parents kept you under supervision 24/7?

Just because you're such a terrible driver you hit a dog that could have been a 5 year old doesn't mean that it's acceptable. You wouldn't have "not gotten a ticket" if it had been a five year old, and you never would have been able to sue the parent. You would have gone to jail, and rightly so.
posted by delmoi at 1:25 PM on December 28, 2005


Thank you for this post. I didn't have an hour to spare today...but had to read to the end. Compelling writing.

And I've added cjrdaily.org to my list of sites to check daily after finding a few more good reads there.
posted by Bradley at 1:27 PM on December 28, 2005


Or I should say, just because you hit a dog and "didn't get a ticket" doesn't mean that you "wouldn't get a ticket" if it had been a kid.
posted by delmoi at 1:30 PM on December 28, 2005


It also sounds like the prosecution was completely incompetent, and lazy.
posted by delmoi at 1:49 PM on December 28, 2005


Hmm, she was given house arrest, 500 hours of community service and is a felon. Thats a somewhat resonable. I personaly don't like the idea of people going to jail anyway. Still, I think calling her a 'victim' is just silly. Oh well.
posted by delmoi at 1:57 PM on December 28, 2005


delmoi: "they were on a crosswalk"

I had gotten that impression from looking at the diagram, but later in the article when they were going through the prosecutors' meeting where they decided not to charge with homicide, it was revealed that the kids were not on a crosswalk.

I can't know what I'd have done if I were driving the car. But I certainly hope that I'd have acted better than her parents did were I in their situation. The article led me to empathize with Jennifer. Her parents, though, I just don't get.
posted by ewagoner at 1:58 PM on December 28, 2005


Ewkpates: I walked to school when I was 12+ on streets with no sidewalks. And I have been hit by a car (in a different situation). The driver was at fault, not the mother.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 2:10 PM on December 28, 2005


What a read; I don't know about anyone else, but I teared up in a few spots. You'd have to made of stone not to feel for everyone involved.

To add to the commentary, I can only say a few things. First, as ewagoner pointed out, the children were not crossing at a crosswalk. Although this may not have made much of a difference either way, as the article also mentioned that there was no light at the crosswalk and burned out streetlights.

Second, this was a busy street, with a posted speed limit of 30, which many witnesses pointed out was disregarded by most people driving on it. I live on a very residential street with a posted speed limit of 25mph, which is routinely ignored. My fiance allows his 7 and 11 year old children to walk less than one block to their bus stop across this street, and I worry EVERY SINGLE DAY that they will be hit by a speeding car. Don't try to tell me for one second that if this happened (god forbid), we would bear no responsibility at all. We are making a conscious decision to let these kids start to grow up, but it may have consequences. I walked about a mile to school by myself on a very busy street with a sidewalk on only one side that I had to cross the street to get to when I was in first grade, but that was almost 30 years ago. How do we decide when it's okay to let your kids out on their own a bit? It's a question I still struggle with.

Third, I witnessed a car hit a pedestrian crossing a busy 4-lane road in DC, at night, nowhere near a crosswalk. I was driving by just as the girl's head hit the pavement and I was so shocked it literally did not occur to me to stop. I was in no way involved in this accident, but it happened so fast and was so unexpected that my brain sort of froze up for a second. We all think we know what we'd do in a situation like that, that we would be cool under pressure and automatically "do the right thing" but until it happens, I'm telling you first hand, you don't know. I called the police department the following morning after the worst night of my life to report what I'd seen, and I became a witness for the prosecution; the passenger in my car urged me to keep driving, did not call the police, and only testified after I had given his name. What does this have to do with Jennifer Porter? Maybe nothing. But I can understand why she didn't stop at the time. What I can't understand is how she did nothing the next day, but you know, I'm not her.

As for what I think about the punishment, well, I'm going to think on it for a while. I can put myself in both spots - what if it was one of my stepkids that was hit? What if I had been the driver? Since I can so easily see myself in either place, it's hard to come down on one side or the other.

My .02, take it for what it's worth.
posted by jennaratrix at 2:18 PM on December 28, 2005


ewagoner: It wasn't revealed that the kids weren't on a crosswalk, it was the prosecutor's opinion that the defense attorney would CLAIM that the kids weren't on a crosswalk. And without better evidence, there was no way to absolutely prove or disporve the claim.
posted by Justinian at 2:30 PM on December 28, 2005


Something nagging at me...in either the first or second article, it was one of the boys who said, and this is obviously second (third-hand?) was "Oh my God, it's getting dark, and we have to get home..." or words to that effect.

Maybe it was twilight, which makes it harder to see something on the ground if you're heading West.

I've no doubt that the mother loved her kids, but I can't help the feeling...just a feeling, and one I'm having a hard time articulating, that she profited somewhat on the deaths of her children and it feels....wrong....to me. The feeling is compounded by her testimony in court...like she went back and forth between forgiveness and righteous anger. Which would be entirely natural, except that there might be terms and conditions in her settlement that require her testimony in a just-so way...I dunno. It smells funny to me.

I'm certainly not passing any kind of judgment here, but the feelings of ambiguity remain.
posted by TeamBilly at 2:30 PM on December 28, 2005


a few comments:

1. that is kind of a rough area of town, but it's nowhere near as bad as the areas further south on that same road. my saturn dealership is remarkably close and i used to go for walks along fletcher ave. while waiting for my car to get its oil changed or what have you, and i've been directed through that part of town a few times with detours. rough, but not really dangerous.

2. i am a large white male, so obviously i have a different mentality about whether or not situations are dangerous.

3. she went home and her parents helped her cover-up the crime.

4. i can completely agree with leaving the scene of an accident because you're scared, but it's not like she was 16. she was fucking 28...an adult, in every sense of the word and responsible for her actions. i'm pretty sure the detectives and prosecutors wouldn't have cared if she had just called police as soon as she got home....but you can't ignore the situation!

5. she went home and her father helped her cover-up the crime

6. other cars were involved:

It turned out the Honda did exist. That driver, who was not involved in the accident, stopped to talk to a deputy on the scene, authorities said. He came forward again more than a week later, and officials cleared him of any involvement.

and that driver wasn't scared of the neighborhood.

7. her parents got her a high-priced lawyer before she admitted she did it:

[lawyer Barry] Cohen called sheriff's investigators two days after the crash and told them where to find Porter's damaged Echo. On April 5, he held a news conference and said Porter had been driving the car. She apologized.

and that's pretty shitty.

---

so yeah, i wouldn't have thrown the book at her, but it's a shame she only got 2 years house arrest.

and the st. pete times is awesome. tampa is a pretty conservative area...some of the clearchannel jocks call the paper the "slant petersburg lies". *rimshot*.

that makes me like it even more.
posted by taumeson at 2:34 PM on December 28, 2005


It's not really accurate to say that her father helped her cover it up; it sounded more like she was alternatively suicidally hysterical and borderline catatonic after coming out of her shock trance and the parents and her sister's fiance did the work of hiding and cleaning the car. She wanted to turn herself in and her parents talked her out of doing so, at least until she had a lawyer. When faced to choose between the law of her community and the injunctions of her parents, the latter authority triumphed. This may make her weak, but it doesn't make me want to throw her in the slammer for years. She lost her job and will live a haunted existence. Sometimes that's punishment enough.
posted by amber_dale at 2:44 PM on December 28, 2005


taumeson writes "7. her parents got her a high-priced lawyer before she admitted she did it:"

Getting a lawyer wasn't shitty it was smart. Anyone involved in something like this who doesn't get a lawyer right away is a fool. Anyone who doesn't think so is niave.
posted by OmieWise at 2:53 PM on December 28, 2005


Funny how sexism plays a role in these things. If the car driver had been a man there would be no story here. Just straight up revulsion and responsibility.
posted by srboisvert at 2:55 PM on December 28, 2005


Twilight and being on "autopilot" could certainly contribute to not having seen the children. I know that there are time that I just don't remember long stretches of my commute because I am so familliar with the route that my brain does something else while my eyes watch the road. It's not uncommon - or at least I'm not the only person I've ever heard describe this state. As her father said many times, it seems that in retrospect they did not make the best choices, and as her lawyer said, she initially received some very poor advice (from her family, obviously) and acted on it out of fear and trust. I feel sorry for her, and I feel sorry for the mother of those kids, but I really feel most sorry for the dead children.

On the other hand, I don't see where putting her in jail serves any real purpose, either. She's obviously going to have to live with this for the rest of her life, and that's obviously (to me anyway) more meaningful to her than it would be to some people.

Re: the sexism slant -- I'm not sure I agree. It's possible that a guy wouldn't have had the same set of issues going into this that she did, which is a demonstrable over-dependence on her parents, simply because that's not as encouraged in young men. I think that her lack of personal independence and apparent lack of maturity definetly played a role in her reaction during the whole debacle that followed the accident wherein her parents convinced her not to go in. They were obviously very protective and she was obviously very conditioned to allow them to do it. (Which not an excuse but an observation.) I think that this would not be an uncommon thing to see for a younger male, certainly, one who was still dependent on his parents in the way she was. Also, let's not forget that Dany Heatley (Atlanta Thrashers star who killed his teammate and best friend, Dan Snyder stupidly racing his car,) got off IMHO way lighter than this girl did.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:10 PM on December 28, 2005


Well, there was witness testimony that the children were hit by a white van which threw them into the woman's car, and her own testimony that she didn't strike the children, but was struck on the windshield by one of them. Even if this isn't true, it is substantiated enough so that the prosecuters certainly couldn't charge her with vehicular homicide. We weren't there, and don't know what really happened, so the issue comes down to her responsibility in fleeing the scene -- which is exactly what she was charged with.

How much punishment is appropriate for fleeing the scene in a daze? I don't know. But those who wanted her punished wanted the punishment to be for the death of the children, and, without being able to prove that she was guilty of their deaths, and that it came through her own misbehavior rather than through accident, this would have been a miscarriage of justice.
posted by maxsparber at 3:17 PM on December 28, 2005


But I can understand why she didn't stop at the time. What I can't understand is how she did nothing the next day, but you know, I'm not her.

Because her parents told her not too, not before seeing a lawyer. If anyone should be charged with a crime, it was her parents. I mean, OMG they cleaned the car and they told her not to go to the police. But it makes sense for the prosecutors to grant the parents immunity in order to compel their testimony.
posted by delmoi at 3:37 PM on December 28, 2005


and about it being light out... if it was LIGHT, why didn't she see FOUR CHILDREN on a STRAIGHT EXPANSE OF ROAD, crossing on a crosswalk across from a community center? - setanor

The article does suggest that the kids were NOT at a crosswalk, and the google map shows a fair amount of shrubbery and other impediments drivers might have to seeing small children darting out into a busy road where they're not supposed to be. And, you have to remember that the witnesses all saw another vehicle hit the kids *first* and threw them into her car.

i don't fault the writers for not attempting to get words around it. but i do think it's there. - RedEmma

Ab.so.lutely. The Tampa Bay area is fairly racially charged, and I think the Times was trying not to ignite another problem.

My opinion about the case is probably unpopular. I think the situation is tragic for the dead children. I think it's been profitable for the mother, who at least now has some invisible means of paying for her bizarre need to keep popping out babies every 10 months. I think the sentence meted out to the driver was fair, considering that she was sentenced for leaving the scene of a crime, and not for vehicular homicide.
posted by dejah420 at 3:44 PM on December 28, 2005


- MedievalMaven-
Twilight and being on "autopilot" could certainly contribute to not having seen the children. I know that there are time that I just don't remember long stretches of my commute because I am so familliar with the route that my brain does something else while my eyes watch the road. It's not uncommon - or at least I'm not the only person I've ever heard describe this state.

Neurological studies have apparently shown that when the mind's preoccupied or distracted, large chunks of the visual field simply "drop out" of consciousness. I think that's one of those brain-findings that stands out as the sort of thing that's rather obvious, but is nice to have confirmation of. It's actually pretty remarkable that people drive as safely as they do, overall.

Good article about an tragic collision of several ugly factors making a great big pulsating mass of suffering for all involved. I'm personally most inclined to view the driver and her family badly, but not really vested in getting worked up over it. Just one of those things I hope the survivors all heal as cleanly as possible over.
posted by Drastic at 4:23 PM on December 28, 2005


This guy was talking about driving through the ghetto with an Indian woman, and how he told her "if you hit someone, just keep driving" the idea that these ghetto people would just shoot her if she ran into someone.

Mob beats driver who honked at them
Note: Perpetrators, victim all believed black
posted by dhartung at 5:55 PM on December 28, 2005


For what its worth, I checked sunrise/sunset times for March 31st and sunset would have been something like 35 or 40 minutes before the accident. And note that the streetlights in the area were burned out.

That doesn't make for safe driving conditions.
posted by Justinian at 7:33 PM on December 28, 2005


Phew...I think I spent almost as long reading the comments as the articles. This subject has been on my mind recently...I drive a cab 6 nights a week, and several weeks ago I passed a fatal accident on a stretch of road I drive literally dozens of times a day. A college student was hit by two cars (tossed by the first into the oncoming lane) while in a fairly well-lit crosswalk. It was announced this week that the first driver will be charged will vehicular homicide (and failure to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk). The thing is, the cabbies that work that area a lot (including myself) are *constantly* bitching about the way the students cross the street. They have a tendency to act like they're on campus when they most certainly are not.

I've thought quite a bit about how easily that could have been my car coming up the street. I've thought about how many times my attention is distracted during the 12-hour shifts. I've thought about how kids (even college students) appear to have *no sense at all* of how dangerous crossing the street can be.

My opinion - absent any evidence of recklessness, she should have walked for the accident. I sympathize with the trauma explanation for leaving-the-scene, but she should have received the three years, and done a full year, for hiding the car and going to work the next day. And I feel bad for the mother...real bad. At some point you have to let your kids roam a bit, and hope that they're not among the few who pay dearly for the mistakes that all kids make.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 9:25 PM on December 28, 2005


A friend of mine, here in Boston, was hit by a drunk driver who drove up on the sidewalk near an MBTA station. Several people in the crowd of commuters assisted those hurt by the accident and a smaller group pulled the driver out of the car and stabbed him several times.

It was not in a "bad" part of town.

This was some compelling writing. I'm always curious about the use of narrative techniques that read like like fiction the way this did. The reporters wrote "Cohen stepped out of the elevator, walked across a golden oriental rug and pressed his index finger into a security scanner. A green light flashed, and he pushed through the wooden doors." And I wonder, even with this rather unimportant part of the story's beginning, how meticulously did they ensure that this was truly what happened? Did they ask when the rug that is on his lobby was purchased? Did they ask him "When you entered your office that morning, did you put your finger in and the light went green right away, or did you you have to do it twice because the first time you dropped your briefcase and the door locked again while you gathered up your papers?"
posted by Cassford at 10:07 PM on December 28, 2005


I'm not through reading the series but I wanted to pipe up and say that I know this stretch of road very well, where the hit and run in these articles occurred. I used to live about 1/4 mile from it, and I drove it several times a day to and from my classes at USF. While it is undeniably a shame that two children died, reading these articles brought back the nagging fear I had at least once a day as I drove on 22nd Avenue that I'd hit somebody crossing that street. I mean it -- the street was notorious, in my mind, for people crossing the road (on foot, and more often, by bicycle) with hardly a glance in either direction. I was hyperaware of this situation all the time and when I drove that couple of blocks I was really, really careful, and still I had my share of close calls with people stepping right out in front of my bumper. Once it was a woman pushing a baby in a stroller - she stepped right into the lane and didn't even look my way, not even after I slammed on my brakes to avoid killing her and her child. That was probably the worst close-call I had on 22nd, but it was hardly the first or last one I ever had there. This is how it was all day (and all night, and at night it's pretty dark there), every day, on 22nd Avenue in that part of town. It would be tough to go faster than 30 or 35 mph there, too, because nearly all the time there is somebody walking in the damn street. I hate that this happened to two little kids (or anybody, really) but part of me wonders how it never happened sooner.
posted by contessa at 10:25 PM on December 28, 2005


Cassford: I was wondering tha myself. I think those details the journalist can safely assume happened just by observing how Cohen enters his office and what his office looks like and knowing that it was probably the same the year before.
posted by StarForce5 at 6:52 AM on December 29, 2005


I can understand why a lot of crimes are committed. I can understand being so hard up that it might be tempting to rob someone. I can understand stalking and harassment. I can even understand being so angry as to commit a violent crime.

Recently in my community we had a fatal hit-and-run in which the run-away driver was at fault, an immigrant, and a poor speaker of English. I can certainly understand why he not only ran away, but fled the state as well.

However, while it is not that hard to feel empathy for someone who does commit most kinds of crimes, my sympathy is for the vast majority that do not. I would like to think that a majority of people would do the right thing out of an internalized sense of good. But I don't object to laws to encourage it either.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:21 AM on December 29, 2005


dhartung, as i implied way up above, all it takes is one incident like that, and every racist white person in a suburb who reads/hears about it gets their misguided ideas reinforced, which is how the fear cycle perpetuates itself.

how many times has someone who accidentally hit someone with their car got out and helped and been unharmed? i'm afraid that doesn't generally make the news.
posted by RedEmma at 11:35 AM on December 29, 2005


OmieWise:
Getting a lawyer wasn't shitty it was smart. Anyone involved in something like this who doesn't get a lawyer right away is a fool. Anyone who doesn't think so is niave.

i'm not arguing that getting a lawyer is a shitty thing to do...i'm just saying that not coming forward for a few days until you have a lawyer is shitty. is it the "smart" thing to do? well,you tell me.

i have more respect for personal responsibility than that, though, and i wouldn't want to keep people in the dark about what happened.
posted by taumeson at 11:53 AM on December 29, 2005


you have to remember that the witnesses all saw another vehicle hit the kids *first* and threw them into her car. - RedEmma

No, the article said that the witness accounts were confusing and contradictory and that was what the police were able to peice together at the time. Their story changed the next day. There's nothing the witnessess "all" saw.

For what its worth, I checked sunrise/sunset times for March 31st and sunset would have been something like 35 or 40 minutes before the accident. And note that the streetlights in the area were burned out. - Justinian

Thanks for doing the research. Several times, the article referred to it being dark out at the time of the accident. There wasn't any indication that anyone in the story questioned this point.
posted by raedyn at 12:44 PM on December 29, 2005


The smart thing to do is call the cops, turn the car over, and not make any statements untill you've had a chance to get and talk to a lawyer.
posted by delmoi at 1:58 PM on December 29, 2005


Hmm. I noticed lots of people thinking the driver should have seen the children... but nobody mentioned that maybe the kids should have seen the car. It was shown that she wasn't driving super-insanely fast, so I mean, seriously, the pedestrians bear some responsibility for choosing a good moment and not a perilous one to actually make the crossing.

The mom seems weird to me. Let me get this straight - she doesn't need men, doesn't count on them for anything, yet she keeps getting involved with them again and again as... what, mere sperm donors? Wtf?

Also, she not only didn't have a job, I didn't hear of any plans to get one, or of any sort of career development such as education, nothing. Didn't even hear mention of her wanting to get a GED after she got all that money. That's a hell of a lifestyle - never work, keep popping out baby after baby after baby, with no fathers around. Ugh.

I have a feeling there is a chance she might end up broke eventually. I hope someone advised her to get an annuity with the settlement or something.
posted by beth at 5:38 PM on December 29, 2005


just as a point of order, raedyn, someone else said what you said i said.
posted by RedEmma at 10:08 AM on December 30, 2005


I stand corrected. That error was an artifact of copy/paste a comment that quoted you. Looks like dejah420 is actually the one that said that. Cheers.
posted by raedyn at 10:18 AM on December 30, 2005


« Older Games and Simulations at the Noble Prize website....  |  Gwynne Dyer's Year Ender... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments