Monday, March 2, 2009

Tragedy at the Ateneo

We went to the Ateneo football field Sunday afternoon to watch a soccer match between the girls of British School Manila and Miriam College. With the game over and Miriam having won the match, it was still too early in the afternoon to start heading home so we headed off to the Bellarmine Field to run around a little. In the middle of the field we find several purple cloth with white crosses painted on them, right below them are numerous white candles, in all shapes and sizes. We can only assume that they are all lighted for the soul of the little boy who lost his life.

I read an extensive update on the story from the blog of Cathy, who is a co-counder of The Compassionate Friends, a grief support group for parents who lost a child. Here is part of her version:
My husband and I have just returned from his wake and I am shocked, stunned and restless over the circumstances surrounding his death. The Alcantara’s actually almost lost three children, and not just one.

Amiel, his 65-year old Yaya Tata (who has been with the family for 40 plus years), his 7 year old sister, and 13 year old brother Javi, together with the driver, were already so close to their car when the CRV driven by Teresa Torres, careened from behind and hit Amiel. Yaya Tata was able to push the youngest one and the elder boy out of the way but was too far to get to Amiel. Yaya Tata had herself suffered injuries and fractures and is set to have surgery next week. The most heart-wrenching thing about the whole thing is that it was the Alcantara’s driver and 13 year old Javi who had to extricate Amiel from beneath the van. The impact was so strong that three other vehicles were damaged in the process before the vehicle finally came to a stop. How does a 13 year old young boy cope with the image of seeing his younger brother that way?

It was the driver who took Amiel to the New Era hospital and they were en route to the hospital in another Ateneo parent’s car when Amiel died in his arms. Amiel’s father, Pepe Alcantara, former chair of the UP Student Council in the 1980s, and his mother, Niann, were no longer able to see their youngest son alive. It is a tragedy of such great proportions.

The CRV that careened through the parking lot was around 25 meters away from where the kids were standing. Apparently, for some reasons that remain yet unclear, the driver had stepped heavily on the accelerator because a screeching sound, akin to those that you hear at drag races, was heard by several witnesses before the car sped and hit Amiel.
(The vehicle of Teresa Torres is actually a Toyota Hi-Ace, which hit the CRV in front of her)

The Ateneo parking accident was a very hot topic last week among parents. I read about it in the Philippine Star, while some of my friends saw it on the TV news. Last Friday while some friends and I were waiting for our kids during swimming practice, this subject matter came up again. What really appalled us was the fact that the driver, an Ateneo parent herself, did not sound apologetic at all, attributing everything to the fact that it was all an accident. Although it may be true to call it an accident, it also fair to say that it was an accident that happened because of HER negligence. And to be unapologetic about it, to just shrug her shoulder and say, "wala akong magagawa, aksidente ang nangyari, eh!" Let us remember that even Jesus needs for us to confess our sins and ask for His forgiveness before He is able to forgive us.

Here is part of the story of what happened when the dad of the victim met the driver. You can also read the whole Inquirer interview here

In his first face-to-face encounter with the woman who drove the van that had run over his son, all Jose Fernando Alcantara could say was, “Was it you?”

He added that he had just come from Arlington Memorial Chapels where he supervised the preparation of his son’s body, adding that it took six hours to reconstruct Amiel’s face and head to make it fit for viewing.

“I just wanted to see the face of the person who took away someone so precious,” he said. According to him, he was disappointed with the response he got from Ma. Theresa Torres, who has been detained at Camp Karingal since the accident.“Except for a shrug and ‘Wala akong magawa, aksidente yun eh (I couldn’t do anything, it was an accident)’, I did not hear anything more from the driver,” he narrated.

Alcantara, who described his son as like the “wind” because of his love for the outdoors, said he left without saying another word to Torres.
As a mother who picks up my kids from school everyday, I know the nuances of dismissal time parking and the stress it brings if you find yourself a few minutes late. You see parents fighting over parking, with manners and common courtesy flying out the window as every one makes a mad dash for that single available slot. Pick-up time is always the time when I try to instill in J some level of independence, while I make sure I am close by to ward off any untoward incident. I teach her how to cross the street, always reminding her to look both ways before crossing; to maintain a good distance between herself and the cars on the street; to stay at the innermost side of the curb while waking on the parking lot sidewalk. In my mind, I am sufficiently protecting her. But this accident gave me a reality check that no amount of safety precaution, preparation and protection can help our kids if there are mindless drivers out there who are driving and texting at the same time. Read the whole eye witness account here about how a cellphone contributed to the accident.
Eyewitnesses saw her texting with her cellphone. then people saw her unbuckle her seat belt and she stooped down to get something on the floor of the van, presumably she dropped her cellphone and bent down to get it from the floor. it is in that position that led her to mistakenly step on the gas accelerator rather than the brakes

This story makes a lot of sense as stooping down like that will make it easy for anyone to mistake the gas accelerator for the brakes. it looked like the hi-ace van has an automatic transmission. that way, your body gets disoriented as to what pedal is on the left and what is on the right.

The van must have been engaged on “drive” and she was stepping on the brakes. when she stooped down to get something on the floor, her foot must have been removed from the brakes. and to recover, she must have quickly stepped on a pedal thinking it was still the brakes but was actually the accelerator.

Wives whose husbands have died are called widows, likewise husbands whose wives have gone ahead are called widowers, children who have no parents left to care for them are called orphans. What do we call parents who bury their children? There is no word in any language for them. And this is because life is not designed this way. No parent should ever encounter grief of this magnitude.

The driver later on issued an apology, albeit a very delayed one. You can read about the response of the victim's family right here