Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Duh... It's Dementia

Today's Los Angeles Times reports on the sentencing in the 2003 Farmers Market tragedy:


No prison for Weller, no closure for others

By John Spano and Martha Groves, Times Staff Writers
November 21, 2006

For 25 minutes Monday, a judge attacked George Russell Weller's "enormous indifference" and "unbelievable callousness" in running down and killing 10 pedestrians in a Santa Monica open-air market. The 89-year-old deserved prison for his crime, the judge said.
But in the end, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson placed Weller on probation, finding that his age and poor health undercut any value to imprisonment.
"Mr. Weller deserves to go to prison, but because of and only because of his rapidly declining health, I will place him on probation," Johnson said in a withering critique of Weller's behavior during and after the 2003 crash....
Johnson said Weller "has never once expressed in court any remorse for his actions. I will never understand his stubborn and bullheaded refusal to accept responsibility to put this matter to rest for everyone, including himself."...

The defense did not try to argue senility or other mental deterioration as a factor. In his remarks, Johnson said older drivers had the same responsibility to control their vehicles as other motorists....

The judge apparently thinks older drivers also have the same responsibility to show up in court and apologize for their actions. You and I would do that.
But "stubborn and bullheaded refusal to accept responsibility" is just about a text-book definition of dementia. Whatever happens is someone else's fault, as I discussed in an earlier blog entry comparing my mother's words to Weller's after the accident.
Why did the defense refuse to acknowledge that senile dementia played a role in Weller's behavior before, during, and after the accident?
Were they trying to protect their client? The "sane but accidental" defense failed.
Perhaps the defense just feared raising the hackles of the AARP and the growing elderly population.
I've had friends in their seventies tell me, "I oppose mandatory behind-the-wheel tests at age 75."
Yes, it's inconvenient. Some of us may fail and then find it difficult to get out and buy our groceries. But I'm willing to give up convenience to save lives.
Others say there are plenty of dangerous drivers under 75. Okay, let's all take driving tests every year. That would really clean up the highways.
The LA Times article notes the judge's recognition of Weller's current medical condition, a doctor's statement that "he cannot walk, has lost feeling in his hands and feet and lacks the ability to fully understand."
If today Weller cannot think clearly enough to listen to his verdict or sentencing, it's not hard to trace the dots back to 2003.
He had some form of senile dementia at the time of the accident. His reasoning was impaired, and he also had poor impulse control. After crunching the car in front of him while steering out of his parking place at the post office, he was upset. He floored it, and twenty seconds later ten people were dead or dying. He stumbled out of his car and blamed them for being in his way.
We need to stop trying to pretend we don't understand.
Let's use the d-word: dementia.
It's hard for seniors and their families to recognize and accept signs of dementia in its early stages, but it's critical to learn and act on this subject.

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