Somewhere out there in the November gloom is a 54-year-old woman about whom most people have forgotten.

A few weeks ago, it was a different story. A few weeks ago, she was public enemy No. 1, a woman deemed reckless, negligent and irresponsible by people who used multiple exclamation points to declare her so. A few called her a killer and demanded that she be thrown in jail at once.

Where was the justice, they wanted to know?

In the crucible of public opinion, every tragic narrative must have its victim and its villain. On Lewiston’s Main Street on that dreary afternoon in early November, the victim was obvious: a 13-year-old middle school boy named Jayden Cho-Sargent was dead in the street, having been struck and killed while walking to school.

People across the area were rightfully horrified by the news and, while yellow police tape still drooped across Main Street, some of them went at once in search of their villain.

The villain was likewise easy to find. She was the one crying and shaking next to her battered truck as she attempted to explain what had happened as the nightmare unfolded around her.

Nobody seemed to know the woman and details of the crash remained murky at best, but the Kangaroo Court of social media got to work nonetheless. There has to be a bad guy, after all. Human psychology demands it.

“She WASN’T PAYING ATTENTION!” one woman declared on a Facebook thread that wasted no time spinning out of control.

“Throw the driver in jail for manslaughter,” advised one man who lives in another city in another state. “Drivers think they have a license to kill.”

“She BROKE THE LAW,” declared another, “and killed an innocent victim because of it. She SHOULD NOT, under ANY CIRCUMSTANCES be defended by law enforcement here. This is a disgrace.”

While an admirable number of people urged compassion and patience, the Facebook jurists railed on with their condemnations and forensic analysis of the accident.

The driver must have been speeding, they insisted. She must have been using her cellphone, or putting on makeup, or God only knew what else. She must have been driving like a fiend out of hell and, really, is there any need for a police reconstruction, a court hearing or any of that nonsense? Let’s just throw her in prison and brand her with a scarlet letter while we’re at it, so that the world will forever know of her evil.

Thank God for the clear-headed voices that sought to quell this rush to judgment because the Kangaroo Court had its villain ball and they were looking to run with it.

In the aftermath, the community appropriately rallied around Jayden’s circle of friends and family. There were vigils and heartfelt speeches; there were prayers, kind offers and well-wishes; there were school meetings, public forums and newspaper editorials aimed at preventing this kind of tragedy from happening again.

All good stuff, constructive and hopefully helpful to Jayden’s people.

Meanwhile, the 54-year-old driver of the truck — having survived the gauntlet of raw public reaction — has largely been left to suffer on her own. And just as few of us can completely understand the agony of a mother who has lost a young child, few also can grasp the misery of being the villain in that unhappy narrative. Her memories of that terrible day alone quite likely will fuel enough nightmares to fill a million evenings. It is doubtful that she’ll spend a single day where she doesn’t recount the horror with the intimate moment-to-moment knowledge of the crash that is hers and hers alone.

Sometimes I think people believe that they posses only enough sympathy to cover one side of a dreadful equation. If you heap your compassion on Jayden’s mom — as we certainly should — how can there possibly be any left over to share with the woman who caused all of this suffering, whether it was through negligence or just a terrible confluence of circumstances? All victims must be counterbalanced by a villain, after all.

I remember years back a man who had been doing electrical work on his family’s home somehow caused a fire that claimed several lives, including those of a couple of children.

The Kangaroo Court went to work at once, mourning the dead while declaring the electrician an incompetent, murderous fiend who ought to spend every remaining day in the dankest prison on Earth.

This fellow, whose sin was forgetting to cap a wire or something to that effect, didn’t serve a single day behind bars, although I suspect he spent the remainder of his life in a prison of a different kind and that it was plenty dank indeed.

Call me crazy if you want to. I sympathized.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can call him crazy (or compassionate) at [email protected]


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