Column: Death gives cause for pause

By Dan Mollison

For most of us, last Thursday began like any other day. We went to our classes, said hello to our friends as we passed them on the street, grumbled about how much work we had to do and mulled over our usual everyday problems. But then, around 4:30 p.m., something happened that shattered Thursday’s sense of normality; Sarah Channick, a freshman in ACES, was struck and killed by an MTD bus at the intersection of Sixth and Chalmers Streets while she was walking across the street.

It’s shocking to hear about someone passing away, whether we knew the person or not. Hearing about a death not only reminds us that our day will come, but it forces us to acknowledge that we will likely have to say goodbye to some of our own loved ones in the future. I can’t imagine a more horrendous thought to be reminded of; so when we hear that the loved ones of the deceased are grieving, our natural sense of empathy also causes us to share – even if only in a tiny way – in the loved ones’ very same sense of grief. And when the deceased takes their leave while they’re doing something familiar to us, like crossing the street on an otherwise normal Thursday, it hits us even closer to home.

Sarah’s loved ones are grieving for her right now, but Sarah’s passing has touched more people than they will ever know. It’s striking how many waves of people have been affected by Sarah’s death. Sarah was a daughter, so her parents’ friends and colleagues are sharing this grief. Sarah was a big sister, which means that many of her little sister’s friends are sharing this grief. Sarah was a Deerfield High School graduate, so there are friends and teachers she left behind back home, as well as at other colleges, that share this grief. Sarah also had friends, classmates, and sorority sisters at this University, many of whom share this grief. And then there are the people who never knew Sarah, but were riding on that ill-fated 22 Illini bus – or others, like me, who simply just happened to be walking past that corner during the aftermath of the accident. We, too, share in this grief.

While Sarah’s death is a horrible tragedy, it’s also a sharp reminder that our traffic issues on this campus need to be addressed – now. There have been three other bus-pedestrian accidents on campus since last October, and with class sizes continually bulging the situation is not going to get any better until we face it; and there is absolutely no reason for us to wait. We shouldn’t leave our traffic problems for the bus company or the police to solve, because there’s only so much they can do to help. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the entire University community – all of the walkers, all of the bikers and all of the car and bus drivers – to follow traffic laws and make this campus safe for everyone.

Chancellor Richard Herman acknowledged in a mass e-mail to the University regarding Sarah’s death that “it is the sad truth that we live in an environment where each of us must rush from place to place – often while trying to do several things at once.” This reality makes it even more important for us to be aware while we’re commuting, because in the throngs of people we encounter we can never know who is alert and who is preoccupied. And in the words of Sarah’s father, with just one mistake someone’s life can be “all gone in a minute.”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Sarah’s death has taught me that if we aren’t aware of our surroundings when we commute on campus, it’s not just our lives we are putting at risk – we carry the potential grief of many waves of people on our shoulders. We all have the responsibility to ensure that Sarah’s tragedy is never repeated again.

I, along with countless others whom Sarah never knew, extend my sincerest condolences to Sarah’s surviving loved ones.