ENLARGE Photo credit: WOIA This vehicle crashed through a barrier into a crowd of people attending an LGBT street fair. Two people died, three injured.
My partner called me from Cleveland a few days ago. Gary is on a scouting expedition, a reconnaissance mission in preparation for our relocation. Having had our fill of Arizona, we sought a new, progressive and affordable place to call home.
Unfortunately, affordable progressive locations in the U.S. are rare and a bit of an oxymoron. Progressiveness comes at a price. Real estate prices in San Diego, the Bay Area or much of the Northeast clearly demonstrate that free thinkers pay dearly for that privilege.
So, we rose above the derision and raised eyebrows and opted for Lakewood Ohio, a lovely and diverse and very gay-friendly municipality along Lake Erie just west of Cleveland.
The caller ID said it was Gary Pitman, but the voice did not sound like my partner. At first I thought he was laughing. In short order, though, I realized he was crying. He was hysterical.
Gary is not a hysterical person. Something was terribly wrong.
He was calling from the site of a major LGBT event in Cleveland called Dancin’ in the Street, one of the area’s largest LGBT events to raise money for awareness about the LGBT and HIV/AIDS community.
A major street, Clifton Boulevard, is blocked off for the event.
It was a beautiful, sun-drenched day and the decades-old event was, as always, wildly successful. Clifton Boulevard was jammed with revelers.
But then the unthinkable happened.
On Sunday, July 29, at about 7 pm, an alleged drunken driver crashed through the barricades and plowed into the crowd.
“I was in line at one of the food vendors, but I changed my mind,” Gary recounted. “Someone walked by with a sandwich and it suddenly just didn’t look all that good. So I walked over the curb and was watching the crowd.
“I didn’t hear the car coming, but suddenly pieces of the plastic barricade fence went flying. And then I heard a crashing noise and saw, then heard, the air get knocked out of this big guy. The car’s right front fender struck him with such force he rolled on the hood, smashed into the windshield and went flying, 5 or 6 feet into the air.
“I saw another person caught under the moving car, and only when the car finally came to rest did I hear the screams. It would have hit me had I stayed in line,” Gary said.
Gary caught his breath and continued.
“My first impulse was to run, but then I saw a young woman on the ground a few feet away. She was bleeding terribly and I knew I had to help.”
Gary and a nurse who was also present administered aid to the woman until the ambulances arrived.
Constance Pokorny, 25, is still hospitalized but has been upgraded to good condition. Her boyfriend, 27-year-old Mitchell Andelmo, was not so fortunate. He was the person pinned under the vehicle, and he died shortly after arriving at the hospital.
Two days later, the man who was struck and went airborne, 44-year-old Basil Bass, died of his injuries.
In total, three other people were seriously injured and an unaccounted number of people were hurt. Clevelanders held a candlelight vigil in memory of the victims on Tuesday, July 31.
And now, while the blood still stains the streets of the boundary between Lakewood and Cleveland, the questions arise.
Why did this tragedy not qualify for national news coverage? Why does it remain newsworthy only locally?
Granted, the shooting at Aurora, Colo., claimed many more victims, and the London 2012 Olympics and Mitt Romney’s European vacation are taking a lot of the oxygen out of this week’s news cycle. But does this not qualify as news too?
Is this lack of reporting another example of the pitfalls that face the public, when news organizations become obsolete in the glare of online Social Media?
Why was a cheap plastic barrier the only protection for a large crowd on a busy thoroughfare? Why were no police cars or, at the very least, water-filled drums in place to protect the crowd from this very avoidable disaster?
As my car-obsessed partner Gary pointed out, Toyota should rethink the design of the Scion. The blunt, boxy design of the vehicle proved to be lethal in this terrible accident. Pedestrians didn’t stand a chance against this battering ram on wheels. In fairness to the designers at Toyota, it takes an event of this caliber to bring that type of design consideration to light. But, how would they know, as the “Dancin’ in the Street” tragedy seems to be doomed to remain an unreported story?
Inquiring minds want to know …
Kurt Niece is a freelance journalist from Tucson, Ariz., and author of “The Breath of Rapture.” He will soon be relocating to Lakewood, Ohio. He writes about visual arts for SDGLN. He is also an artist who sells his work on his website.
Candlelight vigil video taken by Vision Video Productions