Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Last week, the tiny community of Ellicott, Colorado, suffered a shocking tragedy when Ellicott Middle School Principal Diane Garduno died in a head-on auto collision just two days before Thanksgiving. News accounts indicate that Principal Garduno was the victim of an aggressive driver who earlier had manifested signs of road rage. Garduno’s five children now face the most festive time of the year in sorrow and grief. A gofundme page has been set up to assist the family with funeral expenses.

Ellicott is only a few miles from my house. Although I never met the principal personally, I grew up in a small town and understand how her death will impact the locals. Senseless accidents like these hit small communities hard because their professional educators are often the primary role models for young people in their formative years. In particular, as a female administrator, Principal Garduno no doubt comforted many young women as they faced the challenges of puberty. Those students will remember her kindness and compassion long into adulthood.

The term in loco parentis (in place of parents) often reflects the relationship between rural educators and their students. In the early years—especially in small towns—K-12 teachers and principals routinely spend as much time with children as the children’s own parents do. I know this firsthand. My parents were working-class folks who knew they could not help me navigate the white-collar, professional world that would ensure I was employable and successful. They relied on my teachers, whom they knew and respected, to fulfill this role.

Every time the country experiences the horrors of a mass shooting, news reporters re-ignite the debate over gun control. I will leave to others to discuss whether such conversations are productive. What concerns me is that we never seem to have a national discussion about the senseless deaths occurring on our highways every single day because of aggressive, distracted, or impaired drivers. An article in the New York Times earlier this year reported that 40,200 people in the U.S. died in traffic fatalities in 2016, a six-percent increase over 2015. Sadly, Principal Garduno’s name joins the list of national traffic deaths.   

As people are driving more, incidents of road rage are increasing. Moreover, it isn’t just the mentally unstable who become aggressive behind the wheel. Some of my own friends–logical and rational most of the time–tailgate and become excessively exasperated at slower drivers. While it’s understandable that motorists get frustrated at the elderly couple driving slowly in the left-hand lane, far too many people let such annoyances lead them to indulge in dangerous driving behaviors. Over-confidence that the automobile won’t malfunction or that their own driving skills will help them avoid mishaps convince them that they can weave in and out of traffic with impunity. But who deliberately gets involved in a car crash? That’s why we call them “accidents.” They occur because of human or machine error.

I don’t tailgate, but far too often I get distracted while driving. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been guilty of checking Facebook on the road and texting and driving. I know better. Principal Garduno’s death reminds me I need to do better. From now on, I plan to put my phone in my purse and leave it there until I am parked safely. Someone’s life—including my own—might depend on it. Perhaps all motorists should be mindful that when they get behind the wheel, they are in command of a two-ton missile, a deadly weapon capable of destroying people’s lives in a split second. It’s unfortunate that the young man who assaulted and killed Principal Garduno (and himself) with his car never thought about this.

If anyone reading this–especially my colleagues in education–can help Principal Garduno’s family with a donation, I would urge you to do so. Please click on the link to the gofundme page here or above.

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