In Storm Deaths, It’s Mostly Bad Decision Making

I didn’t plan on blogging much more about Sandy, but then I made the mistake of reading a NYT profile of several deaths related to the storm. The headline reads like they were all simply unavoidable tragedies: “In Storm Deaths, Mystery, Fate and Bad Timing.”

The only problem is that they highlight two deaths in detail with profiles of the victims, but neither of those deaths were “mystery, fate, [or] bad timing.” They were consequences of very bad decisions.

The first pair of deaths the NYT focuses on is of two 20-somethings who decided to walk a dog. Okay, Sandy was a pretty long storm, so it’s understandable that the dog might need to be let out on the lawn at some point either before the storm really got going or as it was dying down. Nope. These two brilliant folks decided to go out at about 8pm (pretty much the worst part of the storm) and walk the dog under some really massive trees. At least the dog survived.

The second instance they profile I had initially seen reported last night as a woman who accidentally stepped in a puddle that was electrified. That would truly be an accident of bad timing. However, with a few more facts, we learn that wasn’t really the true scope of the story. Apparently, a giant power line came down in the neighborhood and was wildly sparking. The 20-something decided to grab her camera (also around the height of the storm) and run toward the sparking power line so she could get a picture. Responsible neighbors who were monitoring the situation from the safety of their homes apparently ended up witnessing a horrific sight when she ended up running into part of the wire and caught fire. Obviously, no witnesses could do anything in the dangerous situation, and it took emergency crews nearly half an hour to arrive while she burned.

Now, I’m not heartless, so I do feel sympathy for the family and friends of the victims. However, I can also recognize that in these cases, based on the facts the NYT has presented from witnesses, the loss to those family and friends can be directly attributed to supremely unwise decisions made by the deceased individuals. I’m irritated at the NYT because it doesn’t do us any good to call these deaths cases of bad timing. That doesn’t help others learn from the situations. It’s pretty clear by these deaths that there are plenty of people who need to learn that electricity is not some magic thing that you chase after for a fun picture and wind can kill.

13 thoughts on “In Storm Deaths, It’s Mostly Bad Decision Making”

  1. I felt a bit like a dick but I felt exactly the same way when I read the description of the two walking their dog. I’m sorry but when it’s that bad out the dog can wait.

    1. If we had had a dog, I would have let it out in the back yard. Dogs know when it’s time to shit and run, rather than pursuing to find the perfect spot.

    1. No lie, I AM heartless when it comes to this sort of thing. If you get killed being stupid, well, its time to laugh about chlorine in the gene pool. It’s a lot different than if you’re sitting in the house and a tree falls through the roof…

      1. Exactly. Some of the instances they cite, like the woman who died because the loss of power killed her respirator, that’s truly a case of bad luck/timing. Or the woman who died in a car accident from snow, that’s really an accident. The little boys who died riding out the storm just because a tree fell on the house, tragic bad luck. (FWIW, when I wrote this post last night, that story wasn’t in the profile. It was only the dog walkers and the electrocuted chick.)

        I think what annoys me about the media focusing on these stories is that they won’t use these stories as a lesson for others. They won’t sit there and follow up with a detailed comment from the electric company warning about why chasing after downed wires will get you killed or someone who can highlight the extreme force of the winds and how easily it topples massive trees. They don’t have to directly say “Darwin Award,” but using the story as an opportunity to teach others would be a real community service.

      2. How are the trees any different? When we lived in Florida and our house was surrounded by tall trees, we always evacuated during hurricanes because a tree might fall on the house.

        1. Evacuation, especially in a situation with such a wide-reaching storm, isn’t always viable, and generally people under the age of fifteen have relatively limited ability to make their own decisions. Not just neurologically or in terms of experience, but in that their parents physically control them.

  2. Most cases of accidental death comes down to a series of bad decisions. You could even argue that ALL military deaths are from a bad decision too, namely to join the military.

    Decisions have consequences, and bad decisions usually have bad endings.

    I heard the one that got electrocuted also was barefoot, dunno if that is true but I wonder if she’d had a pair of rubber boots on if it would have ended better?

    And anyone who hangs around trees in high wind or lightening is just asking to be removed from the gene pool…..
    I don’t even go hunting when it’s real windy for just that reason.

    1. You would need rubber boots rated for that voltage. If she caught fire, it was likely a distribution line, which range anywhere from 7200V to 34500V in the US. Ordinary rubber shoes I doubt would insulate against that.

      1. With the wet and windy conditions I’d hesitate to call any equipment safe under those circumstances. Far too easy for current to arc across some water droplets, then you’ve got a nice conductive carbon trace across your otherwise non-conductive materials.

        About the only comfort is that she was probably dead before she knew what hit her.

  3. I gotta disagree on the tree one, the level of risk there is hard to measure. Certainly it would have been safer to stay inside, but absent some reason to believe the trees in question were particularly likely to fall, trees survive storms all the time, the vast majority do. The likelihood that a tree happens to fall on you while walking outdoors, even during a severe storm is pretty remote. Ok, point out how they could have been safer, but its not Darwin award territory.

    Now the power line one… that is clearly in the “purpose in life to serve as a warning to others” territory.

  4. We lost one kayaker in Connecticut. Apparently not only did the idiot to kayaking in a hurricane. The rumor is he did so without a life vest.

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