Thursday, October 12, 2006

Let's Use the D Word: Dementia

A jury in downtown Los Angeles is now deliberating on the case of Russell Weller, the 89-year-old man who drove through the Farmers' Market in Santa Monica on July 16, 2003, killing ten people and injuring dozens more.
Because the case is so similar to my experience with my mother, I wrote a commentary that appears today in the Santa Monica Daily Press, p. 5. The link to my reflections:
For me, the case is very clear: Weller was negligent on that day, but his negligence began when he got behind a wheel and turned the keys in the ignition.
He should not have been driving. His comments after the accident show that he had some form of dementia. He or someone in his family should have figured that out before the tragedy occurred.
We too are guilty because we have not pushed for mandatory testing of drivers over 75, and we have not protected our street fairs and markets from these dangerous drivers.
I look at the Weller case and know that my mother could have killed someone when she was still driving in her late 70s and early 80s.
I knew she was dangerous and tried to get her off the road, but I didn't take her keys away. She stopped driving only when she totalled her car. Three years later my siblings and I learned her diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia.
Why has the subject of dementia not been raised in this trial?
Instead the prosecuting attorney talks about whether Weller had control of his car, and the defense attorney talks about "pedal error."
Whether he had control or not, he certainly made some mistakes, and those mistakes almost certainly were caused by dementia.

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