Judge’s message fell short

Blair County Senior Judge Hiram A. Carpenter missed an opportunity on July 18 to drive home an important message to young people – a message that perhaps someday might have saved someone’s life.

He had no obligation to deliver the message during the sentencing hearing over which he was presiding. However, doing so would have been a respected voice calling attention to a mistake many young people make in the moments before serious crashes.

Perhaps someday some young person would have remembered the judge’s words, responded correctly and saved not only his or her life, but possibly the lives of others, too.

On July 18, Carpenter was the judge at the sentencing of an Altoona teenager responsible for a two-vehicle fatal crash exactly one year earlier on Sinking Valley Road that also resulted in injuries to others.

During the hearing, a young woman who was a passenger in the car that was responsible for the accident, and who suffered serious injuries from which she still has not fully recovered, said she just wanted to know why the driver “did this.”

That was a good question, but other questions were relevant regarding that crash. They are:

Why weren’t the three young people who were passengers in the vehicle successful in getting their driver to slow down and drive more responsibly? More importantly, did any of them even try?

Or, were the passengers blinded by peer pressure and fearful of expressing their concerns – if they had any – about the speed of their vehicle on a road whose condition and terrain demand much slower travel?

The driver sentenced that day expressed sorrow for her actions, and her defense attorney called the accident a “life-changing event.” But what was missing from the hearing was the important message to young people that they have an obligation to themselves and others to act to halt irresponsible, dangerous conduct – to help prevent an accident like the one that was the center of attention that day.

Rather than emphasize that relevant point, Carpenter merely observed that there probably wasn’t any answer to the injured crash victim’s “why” question.

“‘Why’ questions are the hardest questions of all” was the judge’s comment.

Carpenter didn’t take advantage of his opportunity to expand on what should have been – in fact, was – the passengers’ responsibility, by way of pleas or demands, to try to get their driver to slow down.

The police affidavit stated that the vehicle responsible for causing the accident “crested a hill at a high rate of speed.” An 18-year-old Altoona resident who was riding with the three other young people died in the crash.

Carpenter should have reminded teens and other young people not to ignore the gravity of the situation when their lives are being endangered. That’s good advice for people much older, too.

It’s better to face ridicule for being afraid than to be dead. It’s better to feel satisfaction for having halted circumstances that might have turned deadly than to live a lifetime feeling guilt for not having done so.

Judges always should welcome opportunities to give important advice and reminders, especially to teens.

Many need such respected guidance that they can carry with them to old age.