Editor's Note: Tragedy on Olympic View Drive

By Brian Soergel | Jul 28, 2016

All general assignment reporters, sooner or later, get the call: There’s been a serious traffic accident, with fatal results.

Along with covering the cool stuff  – musicians coming to town, judging food at A Taste of Edmonds – there’s the necessary: city council, schools, crime, elections, street projects.

Most road accidents are simply checkmarks in the police blotter: intersection smashups, DUIs, an errant car lodged in a storefront.

No reporter I know relishes arriving at a fatal accident. Accidents with teenagers involved are especially tragic.

Just before midnight on July 22, a BMW with five kids – all between the ages of 13 and 16 – sped off  Olympic View Drive in Edmonds on a particularly nasty 20 mph bend, flew over an embankment and slammed into a tree. Two boys, one 16, one 15, died on scene. Medics transported the others to Harborview with broken bones and other injuries.

The next morning, after learning of the accident, I knew a significant part of my Saturday would involve covering it. I left a message with Edmonds Police Sgt. Shane Hawley, who I later discovered was on scene during the early morning hours.

Hawley shared what he knew – speeding was suspected to be a factor, but not drugs or alcohol. With the basics, I headed out.

Traveling north on Ninth, I planned to turn on Caspers and connect to Olympic View to see what kind of pictures I could get. Arriving at the Ninth and Caspers stop sign, and waiting for through traffic to pass, my eyes opened wide at what I saw: an Edmonds motorcycle cop in the lead, followed by a Wally’s Towing truck carrying the mangled car.

What would you do as a reporter?

Turn right and continue to the site of the accident? Or turn left and follow the cop and truck, heading west on Caspers and to downtown?

I turned left, following the procession to its destination, where the motorcycle officer and tow truck pulled in. I parked on the street, grabbed my camera, walked over to the officer and was promptly told to leave.

Hawley would give me the details I needed.

All good – the officer was doing his job, as the mangled car was now evidence.

As I left, I snapped a few shots of what was left of the BMW on the truck’s flatbed. A few close-ups and, as I left, one from a short distance.

That’s the photo I published on the Beacon’s website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

To tell the truth, I didn’t expect the backlash on Facebook. Most all of the comments on the first Facebook post, which had just the photo and a few words explaining that more info would be coming, were stinging.

“This is so disrespectful to the families of the teens involved in this crash,” a reader wrote.  “Even the Edmonds PD have said they won't be sharing this. I'm very disappointed in the Beacon.”

Another: “Please remove the picture; I don't believe all of the families have been reached. Horrible to find out on FB like this. Very disrespectful to the families.”

The comments kept on.

With the basics of the story in place, I updated the story on edmondsbeacon.com, and then – with a few clicks – posted it on social media again.

I understand that many felt upset that the photo showed up twice on Facebook. But it wasn’t meant to magnify the tragedy – it was because the update and the original posting were on the same edmondsbeacon.com post, which meant the photo ran twice on Facebook, and Twitter, as well.

Some time later, a few differing views arrived on Facebook:

“Instead of chastising the provider, that picture should be blown up and plastered all over every teen hangout or gathering place possible. I used it to initiate a conversation with my teenage son. I truly believe that he and his friends will put their safety first tonight and think twice before doing something they'll regret. Words cannot illustrate what pictures can. What a terrible and tragic loss.”

Another: “I understand the sensitive nature … A picture is worth a thousand words. My 22-year-old cousin was killed by a drunk driver. My uncle takes DUI crash cars all over. Kids listen more, it makes them pay attention when they actually see it. This story is truly heartbreaking, and I am sending love to all involved.”

There is gray area written over this story. I see both sides. I’ve seen the suffering of two families that I’m friends with – both lost 21-year-old children. One crashed his motorcycle and the other, an Edmonds woman, lost her life when the car she was in as a passenger crashed into a tree.

Young lives have been lost. Family and friends are grieving. There’s nothing I can do to bring them back.

A different photo of the car is published in the July 28 issue of the Edmonds Beacon. Maybe it, and the one online, can help to prevent another tragedy some day, maybe even today.

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