On the afternoon of June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip sat at a café in Sarajevo, eating a sandwich and bemoaning his bad luck.
He had been a part of a conspiracy to assassinate visiting Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, but had apparently missed his chance. There were seven conspirators in all, stationed along the route on Appel Quay. The first guy wussed out, claiming later that there had been a cop standing nearby, and he didn't want to ruin the other conspirators' chances.
The second guy, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, threw a hand grenade at the archduke's car, but the device had a 10-second fuse. The archduke's driver sped up, and the bomb exploded under a trailing car, seriously wounding two of its occupants. Cabrinovic, as he had been instructed by his handlers, swallowed what he thought was a cyanide pill and then jumped into what he thought was a river. The problem was that whatever was in the pill only made him sick, and the River Miljacka was only about 5 inches deep. He was caught.
The archduke's car sped away, and all of the other conspirators lost their chances. Later that day, the archduke decided to visit the two wounded people at the hospital. Dismissing any suggestion of further danger, he and his wife, the Duchess Sophie, left for the hospital. The driver mistakenly took a right turn onto Franz Josef Street.
When the driver realized the mistake, he slammed on the brakes and tried to back up. The vehicle stalled right in front of where Princip was eating his sandwich. He got up from his table, walked to the car and fired a bullet into Franz Ferdinand's neck, and another into Duchess Sophie's abdomen. The two would die shortly thereafter, and the killings would touch off events that would lead to World War I.
If those events had happened in modern-day Tucson, some enterprising lawyer representing the family of Franz Ferdinand would have sued the designer of Franz Josef Street, and a jury would have awarded millions of dollars in damages.
Was anybody else bothered ... disturbed ... outraged (!) by the Pima County jury that awarded the family of slain 14-year-old José Rincon Jr. the sum of $40 million in damages? The sum is ridiculous in and of itself, but what defies explanation of any sort is that the jury found that the drunk-ass killer driver, Glenda Rumsey (whose blood-alcohol level was still three times the legal limit two hours after the crash), was only one-third responsible for the death of José! Triple the legal limit hours after the crash, and yet only one-third responsible.
You may know how I feel about drunk drivers. First-time offenders (who are convicted) should spend time in jail. Repeat offenders should spend time in prison. I don't want to hear about sickness or weakness or depression. You want to buy some booze, go home, drink yourself into a stupor and wake up in your vomit? Go for it. Just don't drive drunk.
I can't begin to imagine what a parent goes through when they lose a child. It has to be the absolute worst feeling ever. And if the Rincon family wanted to sue somebody in the name of justice, so be it. It's probably better than what I would have done, after what likely would have included a strong desire for vengeance. Neither am I bothered by the father's assertion that the lawsuit was never about money, although, to be fair, has anyone, anywhere, ever been completely truthful when uttering those words?
I can even understand a lawyer looking at the drunk-ass killer's lack of a future earning potential (Rumsey received a 14-year prison sentence) and deciding to go treasure-hunting for deeper pockets. Chuy's, where Rumsey was getting hammered enough to go out and kill somebody, was also found one-third responsible for the death. (Chuy's settled out of court with the family before the jury's findings.)
What I don't understand is the jury blaming the road design for being partly responsible for the death. The poor kid was riding his bike on Broadway Boulevard (Broadway!) at 7:20 p.m. on Jan. 12, 2008. That's two hours past sundown that time of year, and it's on Broadway. This is in no way meant to suggest that José was at fault in any way. Cyclists should be able to ride on city streets at any time of day or night. However, having witnessed the jerks (not to mention the drunks) who drive on our streets, refusing to share even with other motorists, let alone cyclists, I will never ride a bike on a Tucson street. And I have done everything in my power to keep my kids from doing so.
I would hate like hell to have my last thought before I pass on into eternity be, "But I had the right of way!"
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that my daughter, Darlene, is now a full-fledged professional engineer (with her own stamp and everything), working in transportation and traffic flow. When I asked her about it, she, like several other engineers I spoke to, said, "You can design for road safety, but there is no way you can engineer against drunk drivers. They're always at fault."