Yesterday, I Wept at the Courthouse

Yesterday, I wept at the courthouse. Not because I had to miss class to contest a speeding ticket nor because my officer decided to show up nor because I feared my auto insurance rates would go up. Even though, I had secretly hoped the officer wouldn’t show up, I’m glad he did, otherwise I would not have wept nor learned a lesson.

I would not have wept because my case would have been dismissed early on and I’d have left the courtroom before any of the trials took place. So I stayed and during the first trial, I wept as did many in the courtroom that morning for the loss of man I didn’t know.

Seated around the prosecutor’s table was the dead man’s wife and son. He has other children too and young grandchildren, the youngest, the one he never met, born last December, carries his name. His wife wrote a letter to the judge detailing how the loss of her husband of forty years, her high school sweetheart, and business partner had affected her. She said she felt as if she were missing half of herself.

Her son began to read from the letter until overcome with emotion he handed the letter to the prosecutor to finish reading for him. Also seated around the prosecutor’s table were the court’s translator and the two Latino men who had worked with the woman’s husband and were with him that fatal day.

At the other end of the courtroom was the defendant, a man perhaps in his late forties or early fifties, a retired military veteran and firefighter. His hair was closely cropped and his face red with the emotion of a man trying to hold back tears. While it was easy to feel empathy for those sitting around the prosecutor’s table, I didn’t know what to feel for this other man. But even for him, I can only feel empathy for a man forced to carry his burden.

One rainy day, three men stopped their van on the side of the road to adjust their windshield wipers. Two were outside and one stayed inside the van. Without warning, their van was struck by another vehicle at speed. The power of the impact forced the now deceased man’s head through to the outside of the van. His companions also sustained serious injuries. They have had multiple surgeries since the accident and may suffer some permanently disability. Neither, both manual laborers has worked since the accident. One of them has a wife and two small daughters and worries how he will be able to support them.

The sorrowful man behind the defense table offered the excuse of being distracted as he looked into his driver’s side mirror. According to him, the next thing he knew his car hit the parked van on the shoulder of the highway. He plead not guilty and on the advice of his attorney did not speak in his own defense as there is civil litigation still pending against him.

The judge found him guilty of negligent driving and fined him $200. Two hundred dollars for a life and so much suffering? In her ruling, the judge said for the benefit of the audience that when we choose to get behind the wheel of these heavy vehicles traveling at high speeds, we have a responsibility to operate them safely. A man is dead and two others have the possibility of lifelong injuries. Their families at least 12-15 people if not more have also been adversely affected.

As I struggled unsuccessfully to hold back the tears, I listened with sadness as driver after driver refused to take any responsibility for their actions behind the wheel. As for my own case, I had earlier entered a plea of “not guilty.” But when it was my turn, I asked judge if I could change my plea and she agreed. I entered a plea of “guilty with explanation.” I said some words but ended my statement with…”After that first case,” which I couldn’t shake from my mind, “I’m driver, I’m responsible.”

As I stood in the line outside to pay the cashier my fine I found myself standing directly behind the red-faced man from the earlier trial. I wanted to say something to him but what could I say. I’m sorry that what happened happened. I wish you all the best. Your situation resonated with me and hopefully will make me adhere more closely to the speed limit in the future.

Oh no! There I was, silently crying again. My eyes quickly filling with moisture, how embarrassing, I hate to cry in front of other people. I didn’t want anyone to think I was crying over my own situation or maybe I was? The man paid his $200 fine and I paid mine. As I turned to leave I saw him speaking to a police officer so I didn’t interrupt. As I left the courthouse, I drove in the right lane, yep, the slow lane, as irritated drivers quickly passed me on the left. But for me, going to the speed limit has never meant so much nor felt so good.

From the Storehouse

Muslim Apple Slightly Concussed

No More Carpooling in This

Case Dismissed

Case Dismissed Again

Parking Ticket

Following (a cop) too closely again

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12 thoughts on “Yesterday, I Wept at the Courthouse

  1. Very touching. How often we flaunt our responsibility as a citizen, as a fellow human being, and as a Muslim by thinking “I’m a good driver. I can handle a phone while driving. I can eat my lunch while driving. It’s those “in-experienced” folks that get into accidents.”. Thank you for this reminder.

  2. Aly, indeed, for some time, I’ve been trying to avoid using my phone while driving and also avoid checking it at stop lights or while in traffic. I remember when I first started driving I used to pull over to the side of the road when I had to use my phone but then I got more comfortable and complacent.

    Isata and Cucumber, you’re both quite welcome, thanks for stopping by and commenting. This has been a week of highs and lows with many reminders of death and just how fleeting life truly is.

  3. Assalamu alaikum

    Jazak Allah khair for your post. I have gotten so used to NYC’s public transportation system, that I dread I will have to get behind the steering wheel again.

    I am not all that familiar with the American legal system. How is it that the man does not have a charge of manslaughter leveled against him? Is it because he was just distracted, and not drunk, for example?

    1. Wa alaykum salaam BintKhalil,

      You’re welcome. I’m considering a move to a city and thinking about ditching my car, sometimes not being behind the wheel is comforting.

      The driver was charged with “negligent driving,” which is considered a misdemeanor and has a maximum fine of $500. It’s possible that the accidental nature of the incident and the inclement weather at the time factored into the charges leveled against him. The families of the victims have filed a civil lawsuit against him and may receive monetary compensation.

  4. SubhanAllah. I empathize with everyone involved in this tragedy, including the defendant. I know there have been many times where I missed someone in my blind spot or took my eyes off the road for a split second to adjust the heat, change the station, read a text or do something with my GPS. I always think I’m being careful by making sure no one is directly in front of me but it only takes a split second for someone to change lanes or for anyone to miss something on the road. I don’t think I would ever forgive myself if my carelessness were the cause of someone’s death, so it’s a good reminder to always be careful and to really check oneself if they were truly “not guilty”.

    1. Yes, it’s a scary thought to be the cause of someone’s death and to bring so much pain and suffering to so many. Someone said, death is the only certainty we have in the life but yet we’re so heedless of it. We’re in need of frequent reminders.

  5. I’m not even sure where to start with this. I was found speeding, on an empty road, in Ohio and was fined almost 350 bucks. I was driving 15 miles over the speed limit, with out of state tags, 11am, empty road. No one was hurt. I paid more for that ticket than that man did for taking someone’s life. How do we value a life? Would taking the other man’s life away, imprisoning him, make any difference? does ruining another life make up for the lives that have already been destroyed?
    My husband got in a car accident on my birthday a few years back. He probably wasn’t paying as close attention to driving as he should of, and it served as a big wake up call for him. A few months later, he entered 295 behind someone w/ a mattress on the roof of their car. He slowed down considerably, not wanting to follow too closely *per big wake up moment* when the mattress flew off of the top of the car. He effortlessly avoided it and continued to work. He had been following too closely, he probably would have died.
    Cars are a wonderful and evil invention. What else makes us feel so powerful and immortal, forgetting constantly that hold our lives and the lives of everyone else on the road in our hands.
    Driving in this area terrifies me. People are terrifying, and no matter how carefully you drive, it can’t save you from the other morons on the road.

    1. Maybe Ohio has a more punitive fine structure, I know Virginia tried to implement something like this a few years ago and there was a huge outcry about the increased fine amounts for seemingly minor infractions. I’m always wary of cars or trucks carrying a large load that doesn’t look particularly secure. Glad your husband was alright.

      The judge mentioned she was taking into consideration the fact that the defendant still had to contest the civil case when she determined the fine. No doubt, if he is found guilty in the civil case, much larger fines will be assessed.

      Driving is an awesome and terrifying endeavor, humbled to be able to get from point A to point B safely. But in this area, since we’re often stuck in traffic, I generally feel pretty safe crawling along the beltway at 5mph. Although, at these slow speeds people often begin to do other distracting things like check their phones or read.

  6. Assalamu Alaikum Ify, I am glad to read some of your articles including the audios on your journey to Islam. Your name tells me you are my sister in diaspora (an Igbo descent). I am particularly grateful to Allah for giving my sister guidance. Allahu akbar!

    1. Wa alaykum salaam Muhammad,

      Ikenna is my brother’s middle name and I’ve always been partial to names that begin with an “I”. Indeed, it seems we are siblings in more than one sense. Happy Ramadan!

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