The tragic death of Andy Virden, an 83-year-old advocate for the blind, has saddened me and many other Minnesotans. Virden was struck and killed by a motor vehicle March 11 as he crossed a street in Waite Park.
Nobody should die that way, especially Andy. He dedicated his life as a mentor to all, blind and sighted.
I met Andy in 1973, during undergraduate studies at St. Cloud State University. We were involved in organizations for the blind and worked together on projects for several years. Though our political beliefs may not have been the same, we became good friends. I was no influenced by his generosity, kindness and wisdom.
He gave much of his time to help others. So why should I be so sad? It was because his death was avoidable and unnecessary. I and others have not only lost a longtime friend, I am also left thinking how that could have been me had I crossed the same street and corner at that same time.
Andy used a white cane as a mobility tool. He was an experienced cane user. He had his white cane with him the night of the accident. I find it hard to understand how the driver of the vehicle that struck and killed Andy didn’t see him or his white cane.
Yet I also believe that regardless of how good of a cane user Andy was, nothing could have prevented him from his fate that tragic night in Waite Park. I believe that because none of us, whether a user of a dog guide or white cane, can educate motorists. It doesn’t seem to matter how well somebody may learn and practice good white cane travel techniques. It doesn’t seem to matter how well we perfect partnerships with service dogs.
The lesson is clear: We cannot anticipate what type of driver will cross our path as we cross a busy street.
Drivers are required to come to a complete stop and let people who have a white cane or dog guide cross safely from one side of the street to another. That’s the law. Yet I ’m often dodging cars with my dog guide on one side and a sighted guide on another. None of these drivers could make the claim they did not see me.
I can only imagine what happened to Andy that night. He was crossing the street at the nearest corner to his residence. There was a lighted intersection one block over from the corner Andy chose to cross. His decision may have been made because of the cold that night as well as the snow and icy conditions on the sidewalk. Could his decision to not walk a block to a lighted intersection been influenced by clumps of snow and ice on the sidewalk, or blockage of the curbside and curb cuts?
It makes sense that Andy would cross at the spot he was most familiar with, where he felt confident and safe. He crossed where he had crossed many times over the years. Only this time his life was cut short because a motorist struck and killed him. Could that have happened at a lighted intersection? You bet it could!
News accounts state that Andy had his cane yet conflict as to other details. Nobody can dispute, however, that Andy didn’t have his white cane. Canes are visible at night and should have indicated that the driver must stop. That did not happen.
If there is a lesson here, it is that all motorists must drive more carefully and be aware of all pedestrians, Always obey the traffic laws; not just the laws that suit you at the moment. I don’t drive a car, but I know the human is no match against a powerful vehicle at any speed.
Nobody can undo what happened to Andy that night. Perhaps the driver will use his experience to help educate others on pedestrian safety. It is a privilege to drive a car. It is a right for pedestrians to be safe while crossing streets. Perhaps we need stronger measures to hold motorist accountable when pedestrians are injured or killed, regardless if we carry a white cane or use a dog guide.