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September 5, 2012

The Day the Earth Stood Still

On Wednesday, as I was driving to an appointment, I heard on one of the news radio stations yet another report of some motorist who had been stuck in traffic and massively inconvenienced Tuesday after the shooting of CHP Officer Kenyon Youngstrom forced the complete shutdown of Interstate 680.

Since Youngstrom was gravely wounded at 8:20 a.m. Tuesday, there has been much outpouring of grief, shock and outrage. Much of that has to do with total disbelief that such violence could erupt so suddenly, on the freeway during morning commute, yards from homes in Alamo and Walnut Creek.

But through online comments and media interviews -- and just listening to people on Tuesday grumbling downtown -- I heard lots of tales of people being inconvenienced -- by the shooting and by law enforcement needing to close all the lanes of Interstate 680 for much of Tuesday morning and into the afternoon.

Shutting down the freeway made sense to me: this was a crime scene. Sure, the 36-year-old suspect, Christopher Boone Lacy, died at John Muir Medical Center -- negating the need for his prosecution and trial. But the CHP and other authorities still need to do a thorough investigation, and that includes gathering all the evidence they can from the crime scene. For one thing, they will need to determine whether Youngstrom and a second CHP officer acted in accordance with CHP policy in how they handled stopping Lacy's green Jeep Wrangler for an obstructed license plate.

The freeway shutdown left lots of people stuck in their cars for hours, missing start times for work, missing work altogether. My husband left in the middle of the day to get to a job in San Ramon but even Danville Boulevard was too congested, so he returned home, meaning he lost out on a day's pay. Businesses lost out on money from customers. Parents around Walnut Creek were left to quickly figure out how to get through traffic to pick up their kids at Las Lomas High and Walnut Creek Intermediate after County Connection bus lines reportedly were cancelled.

The event left us all feeling pretty helpless -- our normal routines turned upside down. It showed us how very dependent we are on a major traffic artery like I-680. The world as we know it came to standstill.

Outrage over the traffic mess and over the sudden splash of violence not far from our peaceful suburban neighborhoods spilled onto media message boards. The authorities have to come up with a better plan to handle emergencies like this, people said. Their point makes sense. Yes, authorities need to think all this through. What happens if another much larger emergency happens? An massive earth quake, a toxic spill, the apocalypse? How are we going to move people to safety if the freeway is shut down?

Less sensible were people venting and calling the shooter a "scum bag" or worse and even celebrating his death. But late Wednesday, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story suggesting that the Lacy was not some thug with a dangerous criminal history but a quiet, guitar-playing former Phi Beta Kappa and freelance computer programmer, who moved away from the Bay Area to start a farm and raise chickens. His friends were shocked and unable to come up with any reason that he would suddenly and inexplicably open fire on a CHP officer.

All the while, pretty much since 8:20 a.m. Tuesday, Youngstrom had been on life support at John Muir Medical Center.

The earth stood still as soon as Youngstrom got Lacy to pull over his Jeep Wrangler and stepped out of his patrol car. There was a short conversation between between the two, then Lacy pulled out a Glock semi-automatic handgun and shot Youngstrom in the head. Youngstrom fell, and Youngstrom's beat partner fired numerous rounds in the Jeep, fatally wounding Lacy.

As a very thoughtful friend posted on her Facebook page:  "We never know what the day will bring. The officer who was shot yesterday morning had no idea when he woke up that his life was about to change drastically."

I had the same thoughts. Youngstrom's life changed drastically on Tuesday. And, then his life ended just after 6 p.m. Wednesday when he was pronounced dead.

The lives of Youngstrom's family and friends and of his colleagues in law enforcement have also changed drastically, as well. So, too, have the friends, families and neighbors of Christopher Boone Lacy. They deserve our sympathy as well.

I think our lives changed also -- if just a bit. As my friend said: "Today I am more aware than ever of life's fragility."

Something terrible can happen to any of us at any time -- without warning. A CHP officer can pull over a benign looking Jeep Wrangler on the freeway between Walnut Creek and Alamo -- for something minor like an obstructed license plate -- and the freeway can turn into a murder scene. 

I, too, contemplated life's fragility as I followed the news Tuesday and much of Wednesday. Hearing about Youngstrom on life support, I knew he wasn't going to make it. 

And as I thought about how he was dying, I just shook my head at all the people, including the media and myself, griping about all the various way we were inconvenienced by traffic Tuesday. 

I thought, gee, we really need to get over ourselves, don't we? Is it possible, for a day, that we can do that?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

yeah that would be an idea - it's clear that only after the inconvenience of the guy's death do folks realize that they should behave better

Anonymous said...

Was maybe some of the inconvenience unnecessary? Did the northbound lanes have to blocked for over four hours? Sympathy for a great tragedy is certainly correct, but does that mean we have to get stupid about everything? Should the local schools have been shut down and searched to see if they were threatened by a second perp?

Elizabeth said...

I think both lanes were shut down as a safety measure as well as collecting evidence. We as lay people don't know what it means to document a crime scene, so we shouldn't sit here in our arm chairs and say anything. I couldn't get to many places that day, but I just stayed home and watched the news to see what was happening to the officer. This is beyond sad, and so odd that the perp did what he did. I even heard an odd story over at the Facebook page of the young man who is missing from Lafayette. They were wondering if for some odd reason that this guy could be connected to the disappearance of Brett Olson. He had come from Corning, and Brett was missing around Chico.

Very strange if it is connected, because you start to wonder why he would have shot the officer???

Anonymous said...

Why did he have his license plate covered? That fact is probably more sinister than at first blush. Where was he on his way to?

Itchy trigger finger; Glock with magazines; covered up license plate; knife.