A Puerto Rican tale of of law, respect, and tragedy

A Puerto Rican tale of of law, respect, and tragedyIsrael Rivera Valentín is not too different than hundreds of thousands of young men his age. He's most likely a product of the Puerto Rico public school system, and while you couldn't call him stupid, he never really was interested in his studies enough to care. So his grades were good enough to graduate, but not good enough to get in a university, but even if they were, he didn't feel like going to school anymore.

Upon graduation he smoothly fell into working at whatever he could find and suddenly had enough money to start partying with all of his friends. And like many of his peers he unfortunately impregnated one of his girlfriends and was quickly a young father. With the die cast, he now had to work to support his new family instead of for the pleasure of having a few bills in his pocket. A second child came even quicker and now the need to produce a respectable income for his growing family was clear.

Since high school Israel had been surrounded with a culture of excess (instant gratification); reggaeton stars with glamorous jewelry, cars, and women was all he really cared about. And while he didn't really live the life described by the songs he constantly blared from his Ford Taurus, he felt that they spoke to him. Immersed within a "just getting by" environment, he and many of his peers lived life freely, not really caring too much for anything.

Earlier this year, while driving on carretaera #165 to take his kids over to his parents house, Israel became impatient and pulled up onto the median to pass a slower car. He suddenly lost control of his car, ran over a road sign, and crashed into a Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Weeks went by after the accident and while joking about the accident with his buddies, the incident didn't seem to bother him. Why should it? The obligatory car insurance would pay for any damages caused and no one was hurt. It was more like a scene from the violent action movies he enjoyed or one of his favorite video games.

Two weeks later, Israel once again had to drop off his kids at his parents house. So he once again found himself driving down carretera #165. It wasn't like he was worried about being late, but Israel couldn't stand being behind other cars. So he started to accelerate past the speed limit to more easily pass the slower traffic. He saw a light changing from green to yellow in front of him, so he accelerated more to try and beat the light.

Sitting at a light for intersection carretera #865, waiting for the light to change, were two sisters and their 6 children. They were packed into the Chevy Cavalier that one of the sisters owned, but they were family. The kids were all together all the time, and being crammed into the midsize car was normal, maybe even fun. After all, they were all cousins. As the light changed to green, the Cavalier eased out into the intersection.

As Israel was accelerating to beat the light, he rapidly approached the intersection. As he got close, the light changed from yellow to red. He was already flying and in a split second, he decided, probably more unconsciously than then anything to continue accelerating. He was going to beat this light! Why not? He had run many red lights before and nothing bad had every happened.

As he entered the intersection, the Cavalier had already started to pick up a little speed and then before Israel knew it, the Cavalier was right in front of him. There was no where to go and no way to stop. He rammed into the passenger side of the Cavalier. The collision was so hard that immediately two of the children riding in the Cavalier were thrown from the car and died instantly. One of them bouncing off another car. It all happened so quickly, as it always does. Unconscious decisions, made maybe hundreds of times (probably even habit now), lead to a fatal accident.

As the authorities arrived at the scene of the accident, they had to extract the remaining passengers from the Cavalier. The ambulances were dispatched, as quickly as possible, with the injured children and adults form the Cavalier. As the ambulances sped toward the nearest hospital one of the injured children was fighting for life. And while the emergency medical technicians worked frantically on the child, they lost their fight and so did the child. That made three children dead from the accident.


I really don't know what happened that fateful day, August 9th when three children, ages five, four, and two lost their lives in a senseless automobile accident. I don't know Israel. I made up all of the stuff about him and the passengers of the Cavalier. Except for the accident and the three dead children, none of this story is probably true. There could be a million explanations why Israel was speeding through that red light.

But I ask you? How many times have you tried to beat a red light? How many times have you sped up when you see a light change from green to yellow? How many red lights have you actually run? How many ride lights have you seen run? Did you run it because you didn't see it? Or did you try to beat the light, like Israel, and end up running a red light? Have you even done it in front of a police patrol car and then wait anxiously for the inevitable sound of sirens and flashing lights behind you, only for it to never come? How many tickets have you gotten for running a red light?

Do me a favor, next time you're sitting a light waiting for it to turn green, hesitate a few second before you pull into the intersection. Don't mind the assholes if they start honking at you. This is YOUR life, these are YOUR children. Look both ways to see if someone is approaching the intersection too quickly. If you don't like what you see, stop and wait a few seconds more. Is everyone stopped? Be present in that moment and proceed when you're sure no one is coming.

Almost everyone runs red lights in Puerto Rico, almost everyone, that is until you drive onto Fort Buchanon. On Fort Buchanon, ALL of the driving laws are obeyed. What's the difference? One word: enforcement. The only way to control human beings is to punish them, if they break the rules. You can reward them, you can reason with them, and you can compliment them, but for most people these tactics do not work.

Laws are not really laws, if they are not enforced. And there is no denying the only way to get people to respect the law, is if they know that they run a high probability of being punished if they break the rules. It is the only way to make people RESPECT the law. I would suggest this goes for society as a whole. I believe that this goes for the morals, values, and rules (even if they are not legally enforceable) that make up a society. In conclusion, now that I've set the stage, I can now explain why I believe that leather is part of the technology that I believe will most impact Puerto Rico.

Photo courtesy of El Nuevo Dia: Ángel M. Rivera


Martin Cassini

13 de agosto de 2008, 10:20
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(From the UK) That's an evocative, heartfelt post. But may I offer a different take on the subject? In my view, the rules make our roads dangerous in the first place. Lights are installed in an effort to cure the fatal flaw at the heart of the system: main road priority. Priority confers unequal rights on different road-users. If you're on a main road, you are licensed by the law to ignore side road traffic and pedestrians who were there first. In all other walks of life we take our turn more or less in the sequence in which we arrive. Not so on the roads, where we have to fight for survival, gaps and green time. Remove priority, and you remove the "need" for lights and the need for speed, enabling everyone to do what comes naturally: approach junctions carefully and use commonsense and common courtesy to filter in turn. More on this at www.fitroads.org

MC Don Dees

14 de agosto de 2008, 07:24
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Hey martin, thanks for sharing the interesting perspective. However, I can't imagine the chaos that would cause here in Puerto Rico, if you knew some Puerto Ricans well you'd understand.