Monday, April 21, 2014

How Blind Woman and Dog Struggle to Put Lives Together After Hit-and-Run Driver

by Nomad

Hit-and run accidents are on the rise across the country. Here's a story about how one accident has shaken the confidence of one blind woman. 
Still, the problems don't stop there. 

Most of us have a hard time trying to imagine what life would be like without our independence. We just take it for granted that we can go  where we like wherever we wish. For the disabled, of course, it is quite another story.

The US has made great strides in allowing the disabled to live more independent (and therefore more fulfilling) lives.  In fact, The United States of America was the first country to pass laws protecting the right of blind individuals to enter public establishments, and to  travel on all modes of public transportation accompanied by a guide dog. It's called progress and it is something that America should be proud of.   

So when I read this news story out of St. Louis, it made me more than a little angry. Denise Hollinshed, a crime reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, describes how, in one week, the life of one blind woman has been turned upside. All due to the carelessness and lack of compassion of a driver.

Just one week ago, Stephanie McDowell and her guide dog, Ledger were struck by a black SUV while standing at a corner waiting to cross. The identity of the driver is still unknown. He or she made no attempt to stop and, despite CCTV footage, the police have no idea who was driving.
According to the report, the hit and run incident happened in the early evening last Tuesday. St. Ann resident  McDowell, who has been legally blind since the age of 14,  and her dog were returning from the market as they had many times in the past.
“I wasn’t in the middle of the street,” McDowell said softly Sunday as she sat at home. “I was on the side of St. Gregory where the sidewalk ends when I heard the car.”
According to McDowell, the vehicle never slowed down or braked. McDowell told the reporter:
“You would like to think the best of people I assume they were texting or drunk. I have no clue.”
Now she is left to pick up the pieces. But that may not be easy.
Meanwhile, McDowell, 45,..and her 1-year-old black Labrador retriever must work to recover from the accident. McDowell suffered a fractured pelvic bone and must now walk with the help of a walker.
As the car drove away, she was left lying on the ground while her neighbors came outside to help. She had been thrown by the impact into a grassy lot. Her dog, who had suffered some bruising, was clearly upset by the event and uncharacteristically ran off. He was later found and brought home.
“He is new and he is young. He was hurt. His job is to keep me safe from running into things.”
And that might lead to another problem for both of them. As bad as the event was in itself, the incident could seriously affect the future of McDowell and her dog. While McDonnell's injuries may heal over time, Ledger may be unable to continue as a service dog any longer.
Although Ledger is fine physically, McDowell is concerned about an evaluation of her dog scheduled for May 5 from the agency that placed him with her. Agency officials will decide if he remains in her home.
That would be a tragedy for Ledger since most of his life has been dedicated to being a invaluable assistant to a blind owner.  Being a guide dog has been his mission from birth. 
Ledger like most guides probably began his general house training at 6 to 8 weeks with formal guide dog training at 15-18 months. Since the program usually takes 2- 3 months, it's clear that McDonnell's dog is still just starting out and so, more easily traumatized by an accident like this.  
But then who wouldn't be? 

The number of hit-and-run accidents has soared in recent years. A USAToday story from last November provides some distressing facts:
  • Hit-and-run crashes are increasing in many major cities, and hit-and-run fatalities are rising nationally as legislators in several states look to toughen laws to address this troubling "plague."
  • These crashes have reached such epidemic proportions in Los Angeles that, during one recent year, nearly half of all collisions in the city involved a driver who fled the scene.
  • Crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that the number of fatal hit-and-run crashes is trending upward, from 1,274 in 2009, to 1,393 in 2010, to 1,449 in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics were available.
That report also notes that there has been a 13.7% increase in hit-and-run deaths over that 2009- 2011 period, even though overall traffic deaths were in decline by 4.5%.
"The problem is bigger than I think most people are aware," says Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The foundation's analysis of hit-and-run crashes found that about one in five of all pedestrian fatalities are hit-and-runs, and 60% of hit-and-run fatalities have pedestrians as victims. 

Kissinger blames alcohol as playing a key role in the rising number of cases. What can be done? Kissinger says:
"The main thing we can do as a society to sort of combat this problem is to simply be more alert as pedestrians."
Tell that to McDonnell and Ledger.