When Everybody Gets It Wrong
Back when I was working for a daily newspaper I covered a devastating train-car collision where several people
in the car were killed.
It took place in a rural area, and, as I recall, I arrived on the scene with my camera and note pad about an hour after it happened.
The car had been pushed
more than a hundred feet (30 meters) down the track and it looked like it had gone through one of those junk yard car crushers.
I found several "witnesses" who all told me that the car had been going North along the rural road when it attempted to beat the train to the crossing -- and didn't.
With this in mind I took a number of photos from the South
side of the crossing, including some that showed what the driver's view would have been as he traveled North along the road. There were no flashing lights or crossbars in this rural area and the crossing did
seem a bit obscured from the road. One of the photos ended up on the front
page of the paper.
Months later a lawyer called and wanted copies of the photos for evidence in a lawsuit. After he got them, he called and said, "No, your photos show the crossing
from the South, the car was approaching the crossing from the North.
I told him that my witnesses had all said the car had been traveling
North. Not so, he said; a subsequent investigation had proven
just the opposite.
I later discovered that the first "witnesses" had gotten it wrong and then he had talked to
the others. Thus, everyone I talked to gave me the same story.
This was early in my newspaper career, but it wasn't the last time that I found that "witnesses" or "authorities" ended up being totally wrong.
But it was the last time that I just accepted such things without question.
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