Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Five years after a hit-and-run driver struck my son May 12, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:16 AM
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I live on one of Faribault's busiest residential streets, also a main route for the ambulance.

FIVE YEARS AGO TODAY on May 12, 2006, my then 12-year-old son was struck by a car as he crossed the street to his school bus stop.

Less than a block from home, his slender body slammed against a car and then somersaulted through the air. He landed dazed, shaken and injured along the side of the street.

Fear, unlike any I had ever experienced, gripped my heart and consumed my very being on that cool and drizzly May morning two days before Mother’s Day. In the minutes between my awareness of the accident and the confirmation that my son was OK, I feared the worst—that I had lost my boy.

I had not. He suffered only a broken bone in his hand, a bump on his head, scrapes and a possible rib fracture. Minor injuries, really, compared to what could have been.

For too many parents, the tragic death of a child is reality and I wonder how they cope. Via faith, family and friends? Somehow they manage to go on living.

In my son’s case, I also wonder how the driver copes. He/she fled the scene and has never been found. How can that driver of a blue, 4-door Chevrolet Cavalier or Corsica live with his/her actions?

It is incomprehensible to me that anyone could strike a child with a vehicle and then simply drive away.

Faribault police, early on, suspected the driver had a reason—ie. driving without a license, driving drunk, no insurance, prior record—to leave.

Despite numerous leads, including one which came via an anonymous letter penned by someone with a personal vendetta against a named suspect and another which led investigators to a prison cell, a credible suspect has never been found.

On several occasions police thought they were close to finding the driver. I have not given up hope that the driver can still be found—if conscience finally prevails and/or an individual with knowledge of this too-long-hidden secret chooses to do the right thing and step forward with information.

While the statute of limitations expired three years after the hit-and-run, Neal Pederson of the Faribault Police Department tells me that the case remains open and that his office will follow up on any tips or leads. He noted, however, that if the driver lived out of state for a period of time, the clock stops and the crime could still be investigated and charged.

Anyone with information about the hit-and-run can anonymously call the Faribault Police Department tip line at 507-334-0999 or Crime Stoppers of Minnesota at 1-800-222-8477.

I don’t dwell on finding the driver. A $1,000 reward offered several years ago for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the hit-and-run driver is no longer valid. I always hoped that honesty and decency, not a monetary reward, would be the motivating factors in solving this case.

As five years have passed, many, many times I have thanked God for protecting my son from worse injury.

Sometimes still—when I hear the screaming wail of an ambulance as it passes my house along our busy street or when I read a news story about a hit-and-run or drunk driving death—I think of that May morning when my son was struck.

I try to forget. But a memory like this remains forever.

LAST YEAR I WROTE the following poem, which won honorable mention in the poetry division of a state-wide anthology competition. “Hit-and-Run” printed in The Talking Stick, Volume 19, Forgotten Roads, published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc.

Hit-and-Run

 In that moment, I know,

as the rivulets of water course down my body,

as I step from the tub

dripping puddles onto the linoleum,

that the sirens wail

for you,

my boy, my only son.

#

You, who tossed your backpack

over your bony shoulders,

then hurried

toward the street,

toward the bus stop.

#

While I showered,

you crossed carelessly,

your fragile body bouncing

off the car

you had not seen,

flailing in a somersault,

landing hard on the pavement.

Sirens scream, and I know.

#

Panic grips,

holds tight my heart,

my very soul,

as I race from the bathroom,

wrapped in a bath towel,

stand immobile,

watching the pulsating red lights

of the police car

angled on the street,

blocking the path to you.

#

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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6 Responses to “Five years after a hit-and-run driver struck my son”

  1. Bernie Says:

    Oh, Audrey how awful for you all. I’m so glad that your son was not killed. The fear that must have clutched your heart that morning. Perhaps someone reading your blog today might have some information, we can hope.

    Your poem is very chilling. I can see why it was picked.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I remember the details of that morning like it was yesterday. Ironically, the weather here in Faribault this morning is exactly like it was five years ago–cool and drizzly.

      I am so thankful that my son survived being struck by a car. Every day I am grateful, even when he’s being a difficult teenager. I’ll take that any day over…what might have been.

      I do believe someone out there, besides the driver, knows the identity of the hit-and-run driver. A secret like this would be difficult to keep and, certainly, a burden to bear for five years. My first question to ask the driver would be this: “How could you drive away and why did you drive away?” Oops, I guess that’s really TWO questions.

      Going through this has made me realize how quickly a tragedy can happen and that family members should always hug and kiss each other goodbye. I always did that, but this simply reinforced my behavior.

      I also gained empathy and understanding for parents who have tragically lost a child because, for perhaps five minutes I experienced that loss. My heart aches for those of you who have lost children.

  2. -dweej Says:

    Wow, even knowing that he was alright, that poem brought real tears to my eyes. Amazing! I’m so, so glad he was okay…

  3. Brenda B Says:

    This hurts my heart but totally relatable as a mom. That horrible moment of realizing what happened to your son…can’t imagine…but it’s what moms fear. That ordinary morning doing your routine that suddenly becomes a day you will never forget. Thank you for sharing as I hope it helps people remember that their actions matter–getting impatient and pulling out quick to serve yourself can take down another person in a second.

    • You are so right, Brenda, on the mom fear and on the impatient actions. Just a week ago I watched as two children waited on a corner by my house to cross busy Willow Street. Southbound vehicles stopped and waited and waited and waited while northbound traffic continued on…until finally one vehicle stopped and the children could cross.

      I also observe, many times, vehicles whipping around other vehicles on the right side at a side street intersection in front of my house. It’s an accident waiting to happen for pedestrians. Once upon a time, an overhead crosswalk sign with flashing yellow lights marked this intersection. But then, after the elementary school several blocks away closed, crews removed the warning signals. Thing is, many children still cross this main route through Faribault on their way to and from school and bus stops.

      Police enforcement may help deter this behavior. But first and foremost, motorists need to drive responsibly.


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