Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A sad death, and a strange one

I'm saddened by a report of an inquest in England. It looks like road rage caused the death of the angry motorist - but her rage might have been fueled by mental problems. The Times reports:

It was the ultimate expression of road rage. A furious woman driver died after ramming another vehicle and spinning her wheels so fast that her own car burst into flames.

Serena Sutton-Smith, 54, burnt to death after refusing to get out of her Vauxhall Nova as she sat with her foot flat on the accelerator.

She spun the wheels so fast that her tyres disintegrated and the metal rims sent a shower of sparks into the engine, igniting the brake fluid and setting the car on fire.

Appalled onlookers urged her to get out of the car as the flames licked around her but she told them to “F*** off”, an inquest in Gloucester was told.

The road-rage attack took place on a quiet country road in the Cotswolds between Weston sub Edge and Mickleton in Gloucestershire.

. . .

Fire officer Andrew Clayton said: “The circumstances indicate that this was a deliberate act. She remained in the vehicle after ramming a car and then sat with the front wheels spinning until fire developed.

“The front nearside passenger wheel gouged into the road surface by 50mm and the tyre was totally destroyed by the friction. This would have produced sparks igniting fluid, most probably brake fluid.”

The inquest heard that Ms Sutton-Smith, who had previously worked behind the bar at a working men’s club in Ashton sub Edge, had a history of erratic behaviour and suffered from bipolar disorder.

Alan Crickmore, the Gloucestershire coroner, said that her mental condition meant that she failed to appreciate the danger she was in.

. . .

“I am satisfied the fire was started because of her deliberate actions. But I am far from satisfied that at that point in time it was her clear intention that death would ensue.

“I think it is more likely than not that she failed to understand the peril she was in and the consequences of her actions.” He recorded a verdict of accidental death.

There's more at the link.

A tragic and pointless death, to be sure: but it made me think about other incidents of road rage, particularly those so frequently reported in this country. The US has closed most of its institutions to care for those with mental disorders, preferring to leave them in society and treat them with drugs that control their behavior. I'd love to know how many of our road rage incidents involve individuals like this, who are perhaps not taking their medication as they should, or whose dose hasn't been adjusted to keep pace with their changing condition.



Jim March said...

You know...I have to say, people who get violently angry on a hair trigger don't get a lot of sympathy from me. I simply have no use for such types, and I just can't find it in myself to feel sorry for one even under circumstances as gross as this.

It's a learned behavior. They're bullies. They've figured out a way to get other people to bow to their immediate emotional needs.

This one flat-out burned herself to death, but every one of them is slowly killing themselves and the worst have the ability to kill anybody nearby on a whim.

Mario in PY said...

The US has closed most of its institutions to care for those with mental disorders, preferring to leave them in society and treat them with drugs that control their behavior.Could it be that going in for psychiatric help has such a big bad social stygma attached? Even by our - supposedly - enlightened society?

Even a diagnosis of depression gets people labeld as "carzy" or "nut-case" or "lunatic". And if this same person ever gets involved in some kind of legal squable, things get very nasty in a hurry if this info is "public" knowledge.

And nobody wants to be labeled "crazy"!!