Saturday, June 30, 2007

Legal commonsense

Late Tuesday night, June 26 2007, a Chevrolet Trail Blazer veered into the path of tractor-trailer on Route 5 near East Bloomfield NY. The incident at about 10 pm ended in what will be a far reaching tragedy for many.

"The fire trapped the five girls in the SUV. They were unable to escape. Both vehicles were engulfed. There was no chance for rescue," according to Lt Bill Gallagher of the Ontario County Sheriff's Office.

Keisha Koneski, one of four friends of the victims following in a second car, told both the Chronicle and the Rochester Democrat that the driver had tried to pass a van that was driving slowly in front of them. She said that it appeared that the driver may have thought the van was swerving into her as she tried to complete the pass and jerked back out into the left lane. They ran head-on into the tractor trailer and ended up on the side of the road, partially under the trailer as both caught fire.

Sara Monnat, Hannah Congdon and Katherine "Katie" Shirley, all 18, Meredith McClure, 17 and Bailey Goodman, 17, the driver all perished in the accident. All five had just graduated the previous Thursday from Fairport High School and the two vehicles were headed to the Keuka Lake camp of a parent.

Bailey Goodman should not have been driving that Tuesday night though. Goodman had a NY DJ license which made it illegal for her to be behind the wheel that night. A Class DJ license places added restrictions on New York drivers under the age of 18. These include not carrying more than two passengers under 21 unless they are immediate family members and not driving after 9 pm without a parent, guardian or someone performing parental duties unless they were going to work or school.

Bailey's parents failed to "just say no" to their daughter, just as the Hagars in NC failed to say no to their 16 year-old daughter and consented to her marrying Brenton Wuchae, 40 recently. The Goodman's though had the power of the law to make it easier for them to keep the car keys from their daughter, which may have prevented this tragedy from occuring.

A community will mourn, many will grieve and those immediately involved in the accident may suffer long-lasting trauma from their witnessing it. The Goodmans are included within those numbers but I don't believe it excuses them from the responsibility they now hold. Youth and inexperience may have played a large role in Bailey's actions but New York law saw those factors and placed the restrictions they did on young drivers for their benefit. The Goodmans, for whatever reasons, chose to ignore the law. I can't excuse them because of their very real grief, I believe they are more responsible for the grief all must now share.

Update: posted July 2
Funeral arragements for the five are as follows: The funerals for Hannah Congdon, Katie Shirley, Sara Monat and Bailey Goodman will all be held today. The service for Meredith McClure will be held on Tuesday.

The Fairport School District will close all schools and offices and cancel all district programs on Monday out of respect for the families and friends of the five girls.

There has been no blame for the tragic accident placed on David Laverty, the driver of the tractor-trailer that Goodman hit. Authorities have said that Lavery tried to help the teens who were trapped in their SUV by the accident but was kept away by the intense heat of the fire. Laverty, of Olean NY, could not be reached for further comment and NBS Trucking, his company in Pennsylvania, is not commenting on the accident because of the pending investigation.

The family of Bailey Goodman, Periton NY, is cooperating fully with the investigation of the Ontario County Sheriff's office. Bill Goodman, of Ithica NY, Bailey's uncle has stated that Bailey had successfully completed a driver's education course at Fairport High School that qualified her for an unrestricted license but the Department of Motor Vechicles stated Thursday, that Bailey still had a junior license. Goodman has said that the Goodman family would not discuss the crash publically until after the funerals for the five young women.

Being qualified for an unrestricted license and possessing one are two different matters. The states that do restrict drivers under 18 years-old, do so for the reasons that may have led to this tragic accident..... driver inexperience. They are legislating the commonsense decisions that many have shown they are unable to do.

To view a memory gallery of pictures look here.

Update: posted July 3

"I have done young people's funerals, but never in multiples, never on the same day and never with such tragedy. To have five is just incredible," said the Rev. Edward Palumbos of the Church of the Assumption in Fairport NY.
Palumbos celebrated two of the funerals Monday and attended all four. More than 1,000 people were at each ceremony, many attended all four and will attend the fifth today.

For a more complete report of the ceremonies held Monday, look here. Video from Monday can be found here.

An account has been opened to accept donations in memory of all five who died in the crash. Principal David Paddock has said that discussions will be held later to establish "the appropriate scholorships to honor our five angels."
Checks made out to Fairport-Perinton Dollars for Scholars can be sent to:
144 Fairport Village Landing, Suite 198
Fairport NY 14450

Update: posted July 4

Principal David Paddock has stated that the school is planning a celebration of the lives of the five young women who died for sometime in August before their classmates move on to other pursuits in the fall.

For complete coverage of Tuesday's service for Meredith McClure go here.

The photo gallery from Tuesday's service is here.

A complete listing of all the photo galleries related to the tragedy is here.

Update: posted July 5

Investigators have said that alcohol was not a factor according to the newly released autopsy reports. They also do not believe that excessive speed was a factor, rather, that Goodman may have overcorrected after passing a slow-moving vehicle. The final report may not be complete until sometime next week.

Bailey Goodman's parents have provided documents that showed she had completed a driver's course in 2006 that should have removed the restrictions placed on a junior driver. Motor Vehicles still states that she had a junior license. Not only does a junior driver have to meet the requirements needed to change their license, they must also exchange that license at Motor Vehicles to lift the restrictions.

The medical examiners reported that all five young women died from the impact and not from the following fire. David Laverty, 50, was not injured in the crash and no charges have been filed against him.

Update: posted July 7
Tribute bracelets to honor the five young women will become available in about two weeks. They will feature a forget-me-not flower, the words "forever our angels" and the initials of all five. Former Pittsford resident Samantha Schwartz, 24, has organized the effort along with setting up the fund mentioned above. The bracelets are expected to arrive around July 20 and can be purchased at Regalia Fine Gifts in Pittsford, any branch of the Fairport Community Savings Bank or from the website she established: The cost is $15 and all funds raised by the sale of them will be donated to a memorial fund which will be at the descretion of principal Dave Paddock.

Go here for the website.

For a descriptive tribute to each of the five young women:

Hannah Congdon's is here.

Bailey Goodman's is here.

Sara Monnat's is here.

Meredith McClure's is here.

Katherine Shirley's is here.

Update: posted July 13

Ontario County Sheriff Philip C Provero held a news conference today at the Canandaigua Sheriff's Office to announce the outcome of the investigation.

At the time of the accident, the teens were traveling to the Goodman family vacation home on Keuka Lake in Yates County and were followed by four of their friends in another vehicle. Goodman was driving east on Routes 5&20 when she passed a car driven by Michael Short, 21, of Honeoye. The pass began in a legal passing zone but ended in a double-line no passing zone. Provero said that there was no evidence that Short sped up as Goodman began passing him. Goodman's SUV reportedly rotated counterclockwise after completing the pass, leaving tire marks and then crossed back into the westbound lane. David Laverty, who was driving a semi westbound, braked and swerved right but was unable to avoid the SUV.

The rig hit the passenger side of the SUV head-on, driving the SUV backwards 138 feet and entangling the vehicles. Goodman and Monnat were seat belted in the front seats while Congdon sat behind the driver, Shirley in the center and McClure was on the passenger side of the rear seat. None of those three were wearing seatbelts.

Provero stated that Goodman's vehicle was traveling approximately 60 mph at the time of the impact. He also stated that a text message had been sent from Goodman's cell phone at 10:05:02 pm and one was received by her phone at 10:06:29 pm from that friend asking, "What are you doing?"

A call reporting the accident from a passenger in Short's vehicle, which Goodman had just passed was made at 10:07 pm. Provero said that there is no way of knowing who in the SUV might have been text-messaging with that phone.

David Laverty, 50, of Olean, was driving from Fitchburg MA to Buffalo NY with a load of paper that was due there at 8 am. No violations were found in the truck or trailer and Laverty was properly licensed.

The sheriff said that no actions by Laverty or Short contributed to the accident. There was no evidence of drugs or alcohol, the weather was clear and the road was in good repair. He also added that neither of the vehicles of friends had been passing each other along the trip.

Although Goodman had taken a driver's education course qualifying her for a standard license, the Department of Motor Vehicles had received no paperwork and does not recognize that her license was ever upgraded from "junior status."

Nine eyewitnesses were interviewed: four friends of the young women killed, Laverty, Short, Short's passenger and two people in a vehicle behind the semi. Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo has said that no charges would be filed in the incident. Provero stated that Goodman's inexperience and possible distractions were being considered as possible contributing factors.

As tragic as this accident is and the long reaching grief and pain that will follow many of the people involved, driver inexperience I feel is certainly a major factor. It is true that this accident could have happened on any given day and at any hour of that day but the fact that it was at night contributed to the difficulty of the successfully completing her pass. Daylight would have afforded her a much fuller field of vision and possibly, less chance of overcorrecting. Some states have moved to restricting young drivers licenses for just that reason, to allow them to gain the experience they need with fewer added risks. They have legislated what many parents "years ago" did to guide their children.

Just as parents confront decisions for their child's best interest each day, saying no to them is far from "bad" parenting nor is it cruel for them to do or for anyone to think that is a legitimate choice to have been made.

Update: posted July 18

It may never be known who within the Goodman car had been sending and receiving the text messages on Bailey's phone but it is known that Bailey spoke briefly to one of the four friends in the car following her several minutes before the crash. Sheriff Phil Povero cited the succession of calls and texts on her phone as a possible factor in the June 28 crash.

A final note:

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I am....... you are as well. I still stand behind my original opinion but before you begin to the form the sentences to say that I may be cruel, uncaring or angry at the Goodman's for a choice they made, one they may wish they hadn't many of you have extended much thought to David Laverty.

Extended a hand in comfort during this time in his life.

Many still grieve for the five families that are still trying to make sense of this tragedy, how many grieve for a life that has also been changed, through no choice of his own. Has anyone given much thought to whether Mr Laverty still sees the car in front of him, feels what must have been a sickening crash............ feels the flames in his dreams as he tried to approach the car............... wonder whether he will be able to quiet his own ghosts of "what if " when he wakes in a cold sweat.

The police have cleared him from playing any adverse role in the accident........... that doesn't clear him from the memories of what happened.

Have you thought for a moment, to include him in your prayers?


cindy said...

My brother was shot to death trying to stop a robbery at a store he was working at. A lot of bloggers posted unkind remarks about how he was wrong for trying to stop it, or how they would have done things differently had it been them in that situation. The fact of the matter is, we would all do things differently in retrospect if we had a chance to. This poor family has not only lost a daughter, but I'm sure they are suffering greatly for the other lives lost as well. This will be something they will NEVER get over. We should all be counting our blessings that we can still say goodnight and I love you to our children, and stop pointing the finger of blame at these poor people. Would they do things differently if they could? Certainly, but they can't so let us all show compassion and forgive, let us all learn from thier loss.

Val said...

Cindy, I am sorry for your loss and that others were unkind in their remarks. Thank you for your comment, you did state my feelings, let us learn from their mistake. Not only are five young women dead but 4 of their friends witnessed it, the van driver they passed did as well and the truck driver they hit head-on will have to live with his unwilling part in the tragedy. Parents do more than tell their children that they love them each night, they should show them that they do. If this means telling them no sometimes because you fear they don't have the experience to deal with a situation, I personally think that is a greater love.

Amanda said...

Are you kidding me????

Bailey Goodman was fully legal to drive after 9pm. It had not been through the system yet at the time of the accident. To say that because her parents just did not say NO is so cruel and heartless. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?

Also, this has nothing to do with the situation in NC with that 16 and 40. That situation is just plain disturbing. You have to have a license to drive but not be a parent. I guarentee you that Bailey GOodman's parents were caring, loving and devoted parents. They said yes because she was old enough, they knew she was legal and this accident could've occurred at anytime of day! Ridiculous.

jghopes said...

I'm driving for 35 years and I cannot count how many times a car I was attempting to pass, sped up. When I notice a car trying to pass me, I actually try to make sure their pass is complete by moving to my right, etc.

So, noting Mr. Short's age is 21, my bet is that he felt his space was indeed being invaded, did not want to be passed, and perhaps was less than courteous to the driver trying to pass him.

All inexperienced drivers who failed to think of consequences that night; but Mr. Short will have to ask himself if he is blameless.

Clearly, Mr. Laverty should be held blameless yet, he seems to be taking this the hardest.

This is a heartbreaking tragedy and haunts me still.

God bless and peace to all.

Driver said...

So it HAD to have been Laverty's fault, or Short's fault.

No, it can't possibly be the fault of the Goodmans, who jumped the gun and decided that "it's just paperwork, she's really qualified" without considering that maybe, just maybe, five girls driving a big SUV at night heading for a fun weekend isn't the safest thing, and that a driver who is legal on paper may STILL not be experienced enough to drive at night.

No, parents want to be absolved for any and every bad decision they make. Because they're Parents, the most goodest people on earth. It's time to stop this cult of Parents as All Good.

If Bailey thought packing an SUV with teenagers and driving at night while talking on a cell phone was perfectly "all right," then it's because she had parents who also broke the law--because they could, and because who's going to tell them how to drive?

Bad drivers make bad parents of bad drivers. But EVERYONE, to the last stupid selfish driver, thinks ISWIDI (It's Safe When I Do It). Even if that's excessive speed, lane-hopping, talking on the cell phone, and generally acting as if there's no one else on the road but them. Everyone thinks THEIR driving is just fine.

That's baloney. But I don't expect it to change.

fairportangels62607 said...

hey so I was actually DRIVING the care behind my 5 best friends who died.. and i think that val person has absolutely no clue what she is talking about and should shut up and keep her comments to herself.... instead of talking shit about the parents who just lost their ONLY daughter who was their WHOLE WORLD... acting like they let it happen and its their fault. WHO ARE YOU KIDDING. get over yourself. you must've never EVER Lost anyone you love because your the most out of touch moron i have ever come into contact with.
im going to go throw up now, bye.

Channel 19 said...

Val, I'm a senior editor at Overdrive magazine, "The Voice of the American Trucker," and I just read your comments of sympathy for David Laverty, the trucker involved in that terrible New York wreck that killed the cheerleaders. I'm working on an article about the plight of truckers involved in fatalities through no fault of their own, and I'd be happy to talk to you a few minutes for that article -- by phone or by e-mail -- if you wouldn't mind being identified by full name, hometown, etc. My e-mail address is, and my office phone number is (301) 689-5340. Thanks.

Larry said...

Unbelieveably cruel that you judge people when you know only the barest of facts.

Mike said...

Young driver, cell phone, calls, texts, driving at night with friends distracting you... This was an accident waiting to happen.

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A-B said...

Bottom line is that she should not have been using her cell phone to talk and text while driving. I know it's unkind to blame someone for an accident (although it is indeed a standard procedure -- for example, the FAA sometimes cites "pilot error" for a plane crash), but in this case, a legitimate conclusion can be made. As a driver, you are fully responsible for the lives of your passengers -- this means that your concentration must be on driving, not a cell phone.

Val said...

I don't feel that I have been cruel in my assessment of the facts........she was not licensed to be driving at that time, yet someone made the choice to allow her to drive. Youth, inexperience, texting and poor judgement led to the tragic outcome. As I stated before....... the truck driver should be the one garnering the most sympathy.... he had no choice in the accident, yet tried to do all that he could in the aftermath.

Have you noticed how many states have no made it illegal to text and drive........ they must be on to something, one would think.