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Tim Myers: Piling on in the Internet age

Myers' Musings

Posted: July 10, 2010 7:55 p.m.
Updated: July 11, 2010 4:55 a.m.

The first electronic message came via text message at 10:06 p.m. on July 4: “Hey, r u guys safe and sound at hm?” 

We had just completed a long and wonderful July 4 holiday, starting early in the morning with the Newhall parade (13th year announcing) followed by a trip to the beautiful Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, dinner at Famous Dave’s Barbecue on the Long Beach Pier and arriving back in the Santa Clarita Valley just in time to park in the Bridgeport Marketplace to watch the Town Center fireworks and listen to the KHTS simulcast of the music on my Nebraska bride’s car radio. 

The fireworks extravaganza began promptly at 9:20 p.m. with recorded Independence Day greetings from the five Santa Clarita City Council members. Curiously, the fireworks began about 10 to 15 seconds ahead of the synchronized music, a fact one could confirm 20 minutes later when the fireworks finale ended ahead of the music’s crescendo.

We drove the short distance back to our Northbridge home and I dropped off the family, returning to the shopping center at Decoro Drive and McBean Parkway to refuel my wife’s vehicle and purchase a half-gallon of milk. I returned home and heard a mass of sirens from all directions, and then came the text message above from a person who knew we planned on watching the fireworks.

And that, neighbors, constitutes all that I know about the tragic events that unfolded at the Valencia Town Center in front of the Islands restaurant sometime between the end of the fireworks show and the receipt of that text message.

Media types like to assert that rumors swirl due to a vacuum and a dearth of information. Well, we do not suffer from that affliction in the Internet age. Within moments, the local Web presence lit up from mainstream news sites including The Signal to blogs and people’s Facebook pages accessed immediately from smartphones — and an incredibly unclear picture of “facts” melded with opinion grew like an unfettered cancer.

Examples of assertions made through electronic media and not factually verifiable, even 12 hours after the incident: “A drunk driver plowed into the crowd watching the fireworks;” “a Sheriff’s patrol car was involved in the accident;” “the driver was distracted by fireworks from the Town Center show;” “the driver did not appear to be intoxicated, but blood-alcohol tests are pending.”

While I write this nearly 12 hours after the initial shock, the only fact verified includes the identity of the fatality caused by the accident, one Matilde Garnica, a 43-year-old mother from Newhall. While speculation swirls still around the cause of the accident and the particular circumstances, I wish to comment on two specific trends that I find disturbing, one of which I find disturbing in retrospect since I participated in its dissemination.

“The driver was drunk.”

I find the widespread dissemination of this unconfirmed item unsurprising. Whenever tragedy occurs, one seeks to distance oneself from it, and what better way than this. The logic goes: “I never would have caused this accident because I never drive intoxicated.” It provides no comfort that the driver could just have fallen victim to fatigue or distraction, something to which we are all uncomfortably prone.

“It is the city’s fault.”

Better to lay culpability on a faceless, nameless entity rather than individuals. Internet posters quickly jumped on city culpability for failing to close down Valencia Boulevard during the fireworks and, as stated above, media sources already float the idea the driver got distracted by fireworks at the Town Center, causing her to run a red light and set the whole tragic event in motion.

This highlights the error of causality, where people try to assume that some nameless entity can protect humans from all tragedy, but choose not to act due to venality or gross negligence. The logical conclusion would require the powers that be to master time travel to make sure Henry Ford’s parents never met and thus prevent the creation of mass-produced automobiles that cause collisions.

The verifiable facts will come out in the days and weeks to come, and each fact will engender a multiple of rumors that will attempt to provide comfort of some type to members of a stricken community.

I, for one, know only one thing exists that one can always do, and if one is so inclined I would ask you to pray.

 Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Myers’ Musings” appears Sundays in The Signal.


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