Aug 31, 2017
There’s this thing called destiny. Some of us believe in it and some do not. Through a Facebook post last Sunday, I learned of a life lost. The Press Democrat ran an article about a man standing in the middle of River Road at 4 a.m., who was struck first by a Pepsi semi truck and then by a second car. He died.
They reported that there had been multiple 911 calls over a 20-minute period, but CHP officers were otherwise occupied and couldn’t respond. I wondered why they couldn’t have asked the sheriff’s department, which has substations in Guerneville and Larkfield, to respond. Why couldn’t the fire department, which is four minutes away, respond? They also reported on the statement of a third driver who swerved to avoid hitting the body, stopped to help, but realized there was nothing that could be done when he saw the body.
I had been chewing on this story because it happened on the main road below my house. I cared. I wanted to know more. A few days later, it was still on my mind, and I expressed my frustration to my sister. She said, “I think they did a follow-up and posted his picture.” This morning I spent time online looking for The Press Democrat article. I did find it. It was vague. It showed a picture of him and gave his name,Anthony Colwell. Once again, I felt disappointment by the newspaper’s effort, or lack thereof. I felt there’s more to this story, and I wanted to know.
So back to destiny. Driving home this afternoon, I saw two people standing on the corner of Martinelli and River Road, and I felt confident it had something to do with the incident. I made a U-turn to stop and talk to them. I found myself talking to the parents of Anthony Colwell. To be honest, if I’d known it was Anthony’s parents, I wouldn’t have stopped because I would’ve wanted to give them their space. However, as destiny would have it, there I was. I talked with them and hugged them and shared why I stopped.
I stopped because, for some reason, this tragedy had struck a nerve with me. I shared with Anthony’s parents that I was bothered that Sonoma County law enforcement didn’t respond immediately even though there were numerous calls over a long period of time. I shared that I felt there was a story here and The Press Democrat had failed.The Press Democrat had been brief and cold (“CHP dispatch logs indicated no officers were available to check on the man at the time of the emergency call”). In the short follow-up piece, they had revealed Anthony’s name, but again, there was no compassion for life lost, no mention of the human behind the name. (“Colwell was struck by a Honda Accord and a semi-truck, according to CHP dispatch logs. A third driver said he had to swerve to avoid running over the body.”) Only in the sidebar pointing to a GoFundMe page Anthony’s parents had set up to help pay for his funeral is there mention of “the combat veteran and father of three.” Why couldn’t this have been mentioned in the article? How would this incident been handled differently if it were someone in downtown Sebastopol? Was he somehow disregarded because it happened in the Russian River area in the wee hours? When did we lose our compassion?
While I talked with Anthony’s parents, a woman appeared and started walking down the road. Anthony’s parent said she was his partner and that she was looking for anything he might have left behind. They also shared that Anthony and his family were getting ready to move out of state to start a new life. Anthony had three young children.
I asked his parents if it would be okay to write about this, to share this. They were kind enough to let me take a picture of them. They shared that Anthony had been commended for his bravery during combat. They wanted everyone to know that. They shared that this particular spot where Martinelli and River Road intersect had meaning to Anthony. Fort Cook had a place in his heart from childhood.
Because I stopped, I know a little more than the rest of you. And while I don’t usually have a patriotic bone in my body, at this moment I do. The fact that a 29-years-young man, a member of our community, who was a combat veteran and commended for his duty, who had parents who loved him, who had a partner and children and was moving to another state to start a new life finds himself standing in the middle of a road next to a meaningful place from his childhood in the dark at 3 a.m. means something.
Our government is not properly caring for our veterans. Our law enforcement is spread so thin that they can’t respond to numerous emergency calls, and a person dies. Meanwhile, our local newspaper can’t even take the time to find out about the human behind the story they’re covering. We need to do better.