Reduced Speed

A Long Ago Tragedy Reverberates

Author’s note: The details of this story have been altered to protect the privacy of those involved but it is based on actual events.

“Damn Shan , I hate this part of the road. Why the fuck does it drop down to 30 miles per hour for this short little stretch of the bridge when it’s 45 everywhere else?” I asked my friend Shannon who rode next to me in the front seat. She had rung me up for a ride home as a favor, and being a nice guy I said OK even though it meant I had to drive a good 45 minutes out of my way to pick her up and get her to her destination. I also agreed because she was my friend, one of the few new friends I had made since returning home to live with my parents following the death of my wife. She had lost a spouse tragically as well and had fallen on hard times of late. Never enough money, never enough time, never enough of a lot of things. As I applied my foot to the brakes I continued my rant about the strangely placed speed limit change “It’s gotta be a speed trap. Moneymaker for the state. I always see cops here clockin people.” Expecting an enthusiastic endorsement of my theory I was surprised when instead Shannon said softly, “It’s because of my husband. He got into a drunk driving accident on this bridge a long time ago and his best friend who was in the car with him was killed. It was real bad, he woke up in the car after it happened with his best friend’s head in his lap. That mothers against drunk driving thing was real popular back then and had a lot of influence, and they turned it into a cause. Got the speed limit reduced and my husband was charged and convicted of involuntary manslaughter and spent 15 years in prison. He wasn’t my husband then of course but we got married soon after he got out. The guy who caused the accident was drunk too, though not nearly as wasted as my husband and his buddy, but that mother fucker got off with a slap on the wrist,” the anger in her voice becoming more pronounced as she spoke. It was clear she blamed this other driver, mothers against drunk driving, the whole system for what happened later.

She had spoken of her husband only a few times previously to me and then only very briefly. I knew he had been in some sort of serious accident and that he had committed suicide while they were together at a hotel. Hung himself in the shower in the bathroom. She was the one who found him when she woke up to go pee in the morning. A tragic and difficult story to tell and to hear and I had not pressed her for any details when first she shared it with me, nor had I asked about it at anytime since. This speed limit thing had filled in at least some of the disturbing backstory. After a brief pause Shannon pointed to a spot near the right shoulder where the bridge met solid ground again and continued angrily “They had his car set up right at the end of the bridge over there. You could still see the blood all over the interior. Guess the idea was to scare the rest of the local kids about the dangers of drunk driving. I don’t know about the scaring but the headless dead kid’s ma was real bent out of shape about it and protested. Back then though you had no chance against the mothers. Once they had made a decision there was no going back. The car sat there like that for 6 months.” she trailed off into a whisper as she spoke the last few words and stared silently forward. I sped up again as the reduced speed limit zone ended.

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Research scientist (Ph.D. micro/mol biology), Thought middle manager, Everyday junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, Fish hater

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