Let's start with this basic premise: A man who decides to kill himself isn't thinking straight.
Maybe he lost his job. Maybe he lost his wife. Maybe he lost his health. Maybe he lost his mind.
So one day he can't take it anymore and resolves to end his pain. Pops open a pill bottle. Loads bullets into a revolver. Knots a noose. Walks to a bridge overpass, inches to the edge and stares down.
Such a man deserves our sympathy. Our intercession, if possible. If not, our prayers.
But there are times when sympathy for a suicide chokes off, and prayer turns to ashes on the tongue: When he uses an innocent bystander as the blunt instrument of his own death. Inflicts grievous pain on others as a means to end his.
If investigators are right, just such a thing happened here this week.
Police say 44-year-old Robert Michael O'Brien sped alone from his Chesapeake apartment Monday evening in his Toyota Camry, blowing through a stop sign. An hour and a half later, his 25-year-old wife in the passenger seat, O'Brien was driving the wrong way on the High-Rise Bridge, terrorizing oncoming motorists. His panicked wife crawled into the back, hunkered on the floorboards and braced.
"He was coming at me straight on..." driver Pamela Babb recounted in one news report. "I didn't have time to think. All I could do was just pray and say, 'Lord help me,' and just swerve."
The Camry sideswiped Babb's Dodge Caravan before veering off and smashing head-on into an oncoming Chevrolet Silverado.
The driver of that Silverado was 72-year-old Richard Lynn Williamson of Suffolk. Williamson died on impact.
So did O'Brien.
O'Brien's wife survived, but with serious injuries.
Police are sure O'Brien meant to kill himself and his wife because he left behind an 11-page suicide note. And he called an acquaintance just before the crash, telling him where to find it and to keep an eye on the news.
It's cool deliberation like this that twists a tragic suicide into premeditated murder. If you can still manage sympathy for such a thing, you're a far better person than I.
You're behind the wheel and want to end it all? Unbuckle your seat belt and T-bone a restraining wall right off the bat. Don't careen against traffic, aiming for anonymous headlights, knowing full well there's a living, breathing human being with thoughts, feelings, family behind those lights and that, chances are, you'll be taking him or her out, too.
If you have the presence of mind to leave a letter behind, to call and give someone a head's up and tell him to — dear Lord — tune in to the TV news for an update, then you have the presence of mind to plot out your demise in a way that doesn't endanger innocent others.
If I sound heartless, so be it. If I'm unreasonable, given the aforementioned basic premise of suicidal irrationality, well, not everything boils down to neat logic.
Sometimes it just reduces to something Babb said: "You can't hurt people because of your hurt."
If the police account is accurate, what happened Monday was part of a rare subset of suicides that the National Violence Prevention Network calls "homicide/suicides." The network is a coalition of agencies established in 2002 by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even among homicide/suicides, though, this was rare.
Usually it's a white male who kills an intimate partner or family member, before offing himself. Data shows 92 percent of perpetrators are men, while 75 percent of victims are women.
In 20 percent of remaining cases, victims are other family members, usually children. In only 5 percent of cases are they strangers. Another common factor among perpetrators — as with suicides in general — is a history of depression or mental illness.
If the data shows the critical need for intervention services, it also suggests these are wounded people who need compassion as well as medical care.
If you know of a person that is contemplating suicide, Bass has said, "please grab them and hug them and tell them that God loves you; do not do this to yourself."
And if they're looking to do this unto others? That's when compassion becomes a cheap commodity, and God help us all.
Contact Dietrich at 757-247-7892 or email@example.com.