The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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September 6, 2012

Dealing with victims of misfortune

Asked about the status of the state police investigation into the circumstances surrounding a July 18 vehicle crash on the Veterans Memorial Bridge, state police Cpl. Todd Hoover provided a reasonable and thoughtful description of the complexities involved. Hoover carefully avoided any comment directly addressing the specific incident.

There are documented facts in the case that support the need for a careful investigation.

1. The crash cost the lives of Kirk Mahaffey and his 3-year-old son Mayson.

2. Brian Glass, the other driver, in the crash had inexplicably crossed the centerline and into the path of Mahaffey's car.

3. According to state police, Glass's vehicle was not legally allowed on the highway because it did not have a valid inspection.

What caused Glass to inexplicably drive into oncoming traffic is the mystery on which everything else pivots as police and the public try to make sense of whether the crash was a tragic accident or involved a degree of culpability.

State police must investigate then sift through the findings with the district attorney to determine if there are grounds for criminal charges.

Investigators may not be in a position to say which way the case will turn. They can help the public understand the process and general timeline of an investigation.

Cpl. Hoover balanced the need to inform the public while protecting the integrity of the specific investigation. Hoover managed to give an overview of how state police take care to consider all the evidence in a process that can be time-consuming, but should not take months to complete.

His answer could be a model for the manner in which police could talk to victims and their loved ones.

In addition to a public interest, there is often a particular private interest in what police are doing and how incidents, accidents and potential culpability are being explored or established.

Relatives of Kirk and Mayson have reportedly received little information from state police about the status of the crash investigation.

Victims and their loved ones are involved only by misfortune. Perhaps police could consider how to interact with those who have an emotional interest in the status of investigations. Empathy, honesty and as much transparency as possible seem like good places to start.

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