Category Archives: Personal

My Experience With a Newsworthy Car Accident

On the day of my grandma’s funeral, it began to snow.

I had taken time off from school to travel all the way up to Grand Rapids, Minn., to be there for my family and to say goodbye to the wonderful lady who had touched all of our lives. The day of the funeral, I had an eight-hour trip back to Madison ahead of me, and needless to say, I was not excited about the prospect of my mom and I having to drive through flurries the whole way to the Megabus stop.

As we drove away from the church, the roads got progressively worse. Traffic slowed, and my mom’s convertible slid a little as the pavement was slicked with snow. I typed our destination into my phone’s GPS and it took us along a few back roads before leading us to Highway 2. Soon enough, we began to notice police cars, marked and unmarked, flashing their lights and passing us as quickly as they could in the dangerous conditions. Once we were brought to a complete standstill on the road, we figured out why.

Up ahead, a small, grey car rested in a ditch. My view of the road was obscured by the line of cars that had been stopped leading up to the accident scene. Firemen, EMTs, state patrol officers and paramedics were racing to the scene one-by-one in pickup trucks, ambulances, firetrucks and even four-wheelers. Before long, the cars ahead of us were instructed to turn around, and we followed them shortly after.

As we turned, I got my first full view of the scene and I immediately felt my breath catch. The second car involved in the crash was torn to pieces in the middle of the road. Firefighters were using Jaws of Life to rescue the driver of the vehicle in the ditch, and debris littered the scene.

Once we turned around and took a detour, the snow stopped, and I made it to the Megabus stop safely and departed for Madison. Still, I could not shake the image of the torn-up car from my mind. I pondered the fate of the drivers and passengers. Had anyone been killed? I kept Googling things that I thought might bring up information about the crash: Highway 2 accident, Grand Rapids car accident, car accident reports… anything.

A few hours later, I found my answer. I remembered something mentioned in lecture that I could use as a resource: public records. I went to the Minnesota State Patrol site and searched for the most recent incident reports. Sure enough, the second crash that popped up was the one my mom and I had driven into.

The torn-up vehicle in the middle of the road was the one to cause the accident. The driver of that car, 61-year-old Alice Lemcke, swerved across the median and hit the other car head-on. That car ended up careening into the snowy ditch nearby. I was horror-struck when I found out that the driver – the man they were using the Jaws of Life to remove – had died. He was 38 years old. He had two passengers in his car: his 13-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. And the ultimate twist? The man who died in the accident was from my hometown, three hours southeast of the accident.

A day or so later, stories began to appear on the accident when I Googled the man’s name. Most simply summarized the Minnesota State Patrol’s report and offered no further details on the crash. That upset me. The crash has haunted me ever since, and I have been looking for follow-up stories about the accident to no avail.

Unfortunately, things like fatal car accidents are too common to warrant extensive news coverage. Though I was deeply affected by what I saw on the highway that day, it was one of hundreds of fatal car accidents that occurred in 2013. According to Minnesotans for Safe Driving, there were 395 deaths and 29,314 injuries resulting from crashes and traffic accidents in 2012 alone. Imagine how much ink would spill from the presses if each fatality included just one follow-up news story.

Though it’s been almost a month since the sparsely-covered crash, I still find myself thinking about the car that sat obliterated in the middle of the road. I think about how heartbroken I was to hear that a father left behind two kids when he died. I think about how sterile and emotionless the Minnesota State Patrol report and the resulting news stories covering the crash turned out to be.

Sometimes, journalism doesn’t satisfy our desire to feel.

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Justice for Daisy: The Story That Turned Into a Movement

Last week, while I was making my daily rounds of my favorite news sites, I stumbled across a Buzzfeed article about 15-year-old Daisy Coleman of Albany, Mo. Daisy’s story struck me immediately. A few paragraphs in, I found a link to a longer feature piece in the Kansas City Star by Dugan Arnett on what soon became known as the Maryville rape case.

Arnett’s story begins with a smoldering house in Maryville, Mo., the house that was once occupied by Melinda Coleman and her four children. Melinda moved her family to Maryville from Albany three years ago to leave behind the painful memories of her husband’s death and to give her three sons, Charlie, Logan, and Tristan, and daughter, Daisy, a clean slate. Arnett reported that the Colemans had an easy adjustment to Maryville. Daisy in particular had joined her high school’s cheerleading squad and a local dance team. Everything was going well until one bitingly cold night in January 2012.

According to allegations made by Daisy, who was 14 at the time, on the night of January 7, she and her friend Paige Parkhurst, then 13, were having a sleepover at the Colemans and drinking from a stash in Daisy’s closet. Daisy had been texting senior football player Matthew Barnett, grandson of former Missouri Rep. Rex Barnett, for a few months, and that night in particular, he asked the girls to come to his house for a party. Daisy and Paige snuck out of Daisy’s room and into Barnett’s car. He drove the teens to his house and brought them into his basement. From there, a teenage boy took Paige into a basement bedroom and Daisy says she was given a large glass of clear liquid – and that’s the last thing she can remember.

The next morning, Melinda Coleman heard scratching on her front door. Figuring the dogs had gotten out, she opened it up to find her daughter in sweatpants and a T-shirt. Her hair was frozen. Temperatures in Maryville the night before had dipped into the low 20s. When she brought her inside and put her in a warm bath, she noticed marks on her daughter’s body consistent with sexual assault. She asked Daisy what happened to her. Daisy started to cry.

Arnett details the results of the horrific incident: how Daisy and Paige filed charges against their attackers that were later dropped, how the town of Maryville bullied and shamed the girls in an ugly instance of victim blaming, how Melinda Coleman was fired from her job in the months following the incident, and finally, how the bullying got so bad that Melinda was forced to move her family back to Albany. Daisy attempted suicide twice after she was allegedly raped.

For over a year, the case was forgotten to all but its victims. But last week, the Kansas City Star’s seven-month investigation was released, and it ignited an Internet firestorm calling for justice. The self-proclaimed “Hactivist” group, Anonymous, began a crusade against the town of Maryville and the alleged rapists in Daisy and Paige’s case. Using the Twitter hashtag #Justice4Daisy, the organization raised awareness about Daisy’s case and sparked outrage about how it was handled by the Nodaway County Sheriff’s Office.

Many notable media outlets, including CNN, picked up the story as it gained attention nationwide. On October 15, Anonymous reported that Missouri Lt. Governor Peter Kinder had called for a grand jury in Daisy’s case. The case is making headway following an incredible outpouring of support for Daisy and Paige from several Internet communities.

This story has captivated me for many reasons. First, the Kansas City Star article by Arnett was tremendously well-written, researched, and detailed. If the article had been half as good, I believe the case would’ve gotten about half as much coverage. Because Arnett’s telling of the events read like a finely-crafted novel, the sense of injustice and grief surrounding the case built as the story went on. Once I was finished reading, I sent the article to the people closest to me because it affected me that much. As I said in a tweet on the day I read it, I can only hope to one day write a story that affects people like Arnett’s affected me. In my opinion, one of the best things about journalism is that it has the power to drive people to action and to justice.

Second, these tragic events have become far too common in small communities across the country. People deny the existence of rape culture, yet it is perpetuated daily without the knowledge of its supporters. In the Maryville case, Daisy was called brutal names and constantly told that she “deserved it.” In Steubenville, a group of teenage boys made a video laughing hysterically about the girl they saw raped, commenting that she was “deader than Trayvon.” How can these things still be happening in 2013?

Third, Daisy’s story itself just breaks my heart. In a case where a young girl was allegedly raped – brutally – while she was completely intoxicated and then left to die in the cold, I cannot fathom that no one was brought to justice. Rape is one of the most serious crimes an individual can commit against another, yet it is leniently punished in many states across the country. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 54 percent – that’s over half – of sexual assaults go unreported and 97 percent of rapists will not spend a single day in jail. It’s statistics like these that the public needs to be aware of. This is why Daisy’s case is so important. As much as I want justice for Daisy, I want justice for every other victim of sexual assault whose story may not be spread nationally. For every victim afraid to speak out. For every victim who, like Daisy, was shamed into believing that what happened to her was somehow her fault.

I want justice for victims. All victims. But for now, Daisy Coleman is a good place to start.

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