Life is precious. Difficult times bring out the best in us. Everything can change in an instant. You can’t change the past. I was reminded of the veracity of these tried and true platitudes today watching PaKou Xiong share her story of how her texting and driving resulted in her killing James Weiss while he was riding his bicycle. The class of Seymour Community High School juniors were riveted and walked away understanding that texting and driving can kill people and change your own life forever. I believe that none of them will text and drive and that they will talk about this issue with their friends and family, beginning the culture change we all want to see.
Jim Weiss is greatly missed by many. It may be cold comfort that his killer is trying to educate the age group most likely to text and drive but is there a better outcome from his death since time travel is a fantasy? Although the presentations are court ordered Pa Kou said “I would do them even if they were not ordered by the court. I don’t want anyone else to die or go to jail for texting while driving”. Pa Kou hopes his family can forgive her someday. Everyday she wakes up in jail, “regretting my decision that night to text, No text is important enough to do while driving, I never wanted to hurt anyone”. Today was her first presentation to high schoolers and many more will follow. The Bike Fed will help her be as effective as possible and provide some presentation slides with a few statistics and tips and is exploring the possibility of making a short video of her for Driver’s Ed classes. No class that I have taught has come even close to having the impact of her presentation.
I feel deep sorrow for Jim Weiss’s family and all the others destroyed by driver’s not focusing on driving and looking for people biking. Although I believe in the Vulnerable Users bill, the ultimate goal is not to punish people who are negligent while driving but to STOP people from being negligent while driving so that no on else dies. Hearing from a young women whose life is on hold gave me some insight into the other side of these tragedies, one that I had not considered before. Pa Kou helped remind me that the work we do to make roads safer can save more lives than we may think, those of both victims and the perpetrators.
Judge Gregory Gill gave Pa Kou one year in jail and five years of probation, much closer to the Vulnerable Users proposal minimums, which is sadly a rarity. I ran into Sheboygan County District Attorney Joe DeCecco over lunch who told me he things our Vulnerable User bill will help fill the huge gap he has between charging someone with a simple traffic citation and vehicular homicide. “Texting or drinking and driving are the only things that lead to a felony prosecution, generally. We need another option between a traffic citation and a felony”. Xiong has to do 100 hours of community service/presentations each year, can’t drive without permission and can’t use a cell phone for five years. She will also have to spend time in jail during the annual Hodag music festival that Weiss so enjoyed, throughout her probation.
Sadly no punishment can bring Jim Weiss back. Do you think this sentence is fair? Has justice been served? Does liberty include the right to bike without fear of dying?