When tragedy happens it is never isolated and it always has a ripple effect that touches many people.
I am no philosopher, but I have been around long enough and seen enough heartbreak to know that when something horrible happens, it spreads waves of grief over not only the people directly involved, but over many others, sometimes over entire communities. Too often, there is no apparent rhyme nor reason for tragedy. It just happens. It could be because of one poor decision, one act of carelessness, one unthinking moment or it can happen because of something totally beyond human control. How many of us have made those poor decisions, committed those acts of carelessness, experienced that one unthinking moment or had a close call with fate and gotten by with only the chilling warning of experience.
It seems that Petaluma has had way too many of those calls that didn't end being close, but turned tragic over the past several months.
There was the pick-up that ran out of gas and a decision to have energetic boys push that went horribly awry and cost the life of Trevor Smith, a happy go-lucky Little Leaguer, who brightened the lives of all who knew him.
There was the big party at Lake Tahoe that left thousands of young people with perhaps a tinge of conscience for over-indulgence, but cost popular former Casa Grande lacrosse player Alyssa Byrne her life.
You can't help but wonder what turn of fate changed a learning moment to a life-ending tragedy.
Now we have the tragedy of the Johnson family. Investigators believe the accident that killed a Santa Rosa teenager and a 68-year-old Grass Valley man at the Marysville Dirt Track resulted when the steering wheel of a practicing sprint car came off during a practice session. The car hurtled into the pit area where the two were walking. It is still a mystery why the steering wheel, which is secured by a lock pin, came off.
We do know the car was being driven by 17-year-old Chase Johnson, a Petaluma High School senior and the youngster killed, 14-year-old Marcus Johnson, was Chase's cousin.
I had an opportunity to sit down and talk with Chase shortly after he had won the Petaluma Speedway Sprint Car Championship last fall. I can only say the impression the teenager made on me was the same impression he made on others. He was one of the nicest, most enthusiastic, well-spoken person of any age I have interviewed in more than four decades doing this sort of thing.
I am always pleasantly surprised and sometimes even shocked by the thoughtful articulate answers I receive from many of the young people I interview, but Chase came across as more than well spoken.
What shown through the entire interview was his love of racing and his love for his family. What became clear was that the track championship was most important because he believed it would make his father, grandfather and uncle — all racing champions — proud. I remember him telling me that the significance of winning the track championship was that it kept alive a family tradition.
Answering the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" is well beyond my job description, but I do know that when tragedy happens, families and Petalumans come together to see people through the grief and the hurt.