Janey was very conscientious about everything she did except wearing her seat belt. She said it was uncomfortable, she said it wrinkled her clothes; she said it was unnecessary unless you are going on a long drive.
On this day she was going to a nearby convenience store, she couldn’t have been comfortable being ejected from the car, landing head first onto the pavement. The accident tore and wrinkled her clothing, covering her with the blood from her massive head injury.
Janey’s car was stopped in the intersection waiting for traffic to clear so she could make a left turn. The accident reconstructionist would later estimate the speed of the oncoming car at no more than 25 miles an hour.
Three things had been significant: the impact of the collision right at the front of the driver side door, popping it open; the ejection of Janey through the open door because she was not wearing her seat belt; the reaction of her head when it struck the pavement.
Death was instantaneous.
The worst job in law enforcement was mine, to notify next of kin. It is a very emotional event; you change people’s lives forever. I didn’t like it and I was never good at it. For help, I had my dispatcher contact the chaplain on call. I knew the chaplain from previous incidents, he was extremely professional and one of the best I have ever seen at calming and interacting with people under stress.
There was no one home at Janey’s residence. The next door neighbor informed us that Janey lived alone; her nearest relative was her mother who resided in another state. I mistakenly assumed this was going to be an easy notification.
The neighbor asked us not to leave. Her two children would be home from school soon and someone should tell them of Janey’s untimely death.
Over the years Janey had transformed from their baby-sitter to more of an aunt, big sister and Forever Friend. It would be the children’s first introduction to death.
The teenage girl collapsed on the couch, convulsing into a crying jag. The young boy immediately ran from the house going next door in hopes of finding Janey answering the doorbell. He was sitting on the steps of the porch with his head in his hands in his lap when the chaplain sat down next to him.
An hour or so later I returned to the accident site and dropped the chaplain at his car. He would return to the neighborhood and make additional notifications. We had learned a great deal about Janey in the short time we were there.
She was the neighborhood "recreational director," facilitating neighborhood soft ball and basketball games, a leader in the Girl Scouts, a friend and nurses’ aide to the widow living on the corner. She was the grocery shopper and sometimes cook for the disabled man two doors down.
She was "counselor" and friend to the rebellious teenager around the corner. She was a "homework checker" and bus driver on wintery school days.
No one could fully estimate the value that Janey had within this neighborhood.
The military have a phrase for people like Janey; it’s called “force multiplier.”
Because of technology, or expertise, or tactics, or in Janey’s case, personality, one person has far more impact on the situation than any one single individual. Janey obviously had made an impact on many people in her neighborhood, especially the children.
Three days later the call from the chaplain was an invitation to attend a neighborhood memorial service for Janey in a nearby school gymnasium. Over a hundred people attended. I lost count of the number of people who got up to give a testimonial to the value of Janey.
She was unattractive, she was poor, and she was only high school educated. She gave to the kids and the community the only thing she had to give, herself. Moreover, the people loved her for it. We’ll never know if she understood that.
I try to understand, to find the lessons in such heartfelt events. I think I know two.
First, wear your seatbelt where ever you go, no matter how short the trip.
Second, we are all like pebbles thrown in a pond. We can create ripples that influence the entire pond. It’s important to be a friend, a facilitator, a role model, a mentor, a counselor to others. We gain value for ourselves when we bring value to others. We can be a "force multiplier" for our community.
What is your value?
Foster Mayo has been a career law enforcement officer having served with Salt Lake Police Department and retiring at the Bonners Ferry Police Department as deputy police chief. He continues to serve Boundary County as a reserve sheriff's deputy and writes crime prevention and safety articles to help the public.