There’s a new craze popping up on the driving scene called car surfing, which was picked up from the movie “Jackass.” And it’s as dangerous and ridiculous as it sounds. People are climbing onto the roofs of their cars, pretending to surf, while a buddy drives the vehicle. Another way car surfers get a thrill from is riding in shopping carts, clinging to the car as it speeds away. It’s not a huge shock to know that people have died during these stunts.
In 2008, in Orlando, Cameron Bieberle, 18, was car surfing while his 26-year-old friend, Michael A. Smith, was flooring the gas in his car. The shopping cart Bieberle was riding in hit a speed bump and flipped over. The young man’s head slammed into the pavement and he died on the scene.
On Jan. 21, Smith was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to four years in prison. I don’t know about you, but this seems like a paltry penalty compared to the amount of suffering this stunt inflicted on so many people.
I can’t imagine the devasting pain of losing a child. And I can’t comprehend how much more it hurts knowing his or her death could’ve been prevented. It’s instinctive for us to not blame the victim, especially when they die. We offer excuses instead as if it wasn’t their fault, they didn’t know better, or they couldn’t have known.
But this wasn’t a pair of ignorant 16-year-olds or children who often aren’t able to process the future costs of their choices. Smith and Bieberle are adults. There’s a big difference between not understanding the risks and not caring about them. I mourn the waste of life but the majority of my compassion goes to the families because I’ve been in their shoes.
My 21-year-old uncle walked along the train tracks because his pals dared him to. Highly intoxicated, he wasn’t aware of the train coming and was run over. He died instantly.
Over four decades later, my mother still cries on the anniversary of his death. It’s not natural for a parent to bury a child and my aunt said that my grandparents were never the same. But it’s not just the death that haunts all of us, it’s the loss of what could have been.
As someone who cherishes family, I often wonder what my uncle would’ve done with his life. What profession would he have gone into? Would he have had kids? What kind of father would he have been? What kind of uncle? What would he have said to me on my graduation day when my entire family was there? Except him.
Yes, we should lament the loss of potential. But never forget that they made this choice, their families didn’t. Every holiday, every birthday, Bieberle’s family will feel the heartbreaking loss of their son. Smith’s loved ones will forever be associated with a man who killed his friend.
Albert Einstein once said that there were only two things that he knew were infinite, the universe and human stupidity and that he wasn’t so sure about the former. Arguably, he was one of the most intelligent men to have ever walked this planet, and that was his opinion of humanity. There’s something to be said for that.
Mourn the loss of life and possibilites. Grieve for the families who are left to deal with the broken pieces of their hearts. Most of all, learn from all three of these men’s mistakes and cherish the life you have.