Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Two Words: A Reporter's Observations.

"We won!"

Two words.

That was the message from Ed Kohls, who sent me an email on Sine Die (the final day of Maryland's General Assembly session)  to tell me that HB 363 had passed, and was on its way to being signed into law by Governor Martin O'Malley.

But when I called him to set up a possible interview, I asked him about that.

It's not a victory, he explained, it's not a win.

Ed Kohls and his wife lost their only son, Connor, just a few years ago. A son that he will tell you was the kind of kid everyone wishes they had. A sweet, smart, funny, respectful kid who made his parents proud, just because he was such a great person. And he's gone. Because a driver went speeding through their neighborhood. And that driver took the life of their son.

Under Maryland law at that time, the driver was given points on his license and a traffic ticket. That's it. He paid a fine, $1,200 dollars.

And Ed Kohls will tell you he and his wife were subjected to a life sentence: a life without their son.

Passage of House Bill 363, which allows for jail time for drivers who kill behind the wheel doesn't make Ed Kohls and his wife whole. It doesn't end the feelings of loss they have. It simply means that another family won't lose a loved one only to find out that the person who took a life will --in the words of AAA MidAtlantic spokesman Lon Anderson, "stroke a check and walk".

I'm a reporter. My job brings me into a lot of situations where someone's private grief becomes possible public policy. But you should know a few things: You have heard Ed Kohls speak--WTOP has covered past efforts to get this law passed, and the Kohls family has gone to Annapolis two years in a row to push for change in the law--but you haven't heard his wife. She was the one who cradled the 8x10 photo of their smiling son in her arms, and who simply couldn't bear to testify, so Ed Kohls explained he'd have to do it on his own.

I cannot begin to imagine the depths of their grief. My job is to tell their story and get out of the way.  My job is to let you, the reader, the listener, take what you will from the story.

But it's clear to me, an observer, that it takes everything these families have to go before lawmakers, reporters, courts, to tell their stories in the hopes that someone, somewhere, changes the law, changes their behavior, and spares someone else the loss they've had to endure.

Will that be the case as the result of the passage of HB 363? It seems that will be up to everyone who gets behind the wheel.


  1. Kate, thank you for reminding us of the humanity behind the story. Very nice work.

  2. Jessica, thank you so much for your kind words. Expect a bit of a wrap-up over the weekend, both here and on WTOP.