For the last several days, the most popular stories on the 24-hour blogs and the websites for the daily and for the local television stations have been those offering all the lurid details of the most horrible double murder in local memory. Most of us know more details about how those two young people died than we know about the natural or unnatural deaths of our own family members.
Parents, in particular, say they're trying to glean some wisdom from it, wondering they can do to protect their young-adult children from such a fate. It's likely some Knoxvillians will be more wary of encounters with strangers after this trial.
The only reassuring fact is that what happened on Chipman Street in early 2007 is extraordinarily unusual. Murder is rare in Knoxville, in fact much rarer than it was a century ago. Your chance of getting murdered is less than one in 10,000, and if it does happen, it's most likely to be inflicted by someone you know. Rape-torture murder by random strangers is off-the-charts rare.
Your children are many, many times more likely to be killed in a car wreck. And unlike most murders, many fatal car wrecks are indeed inflicted by random strangers.
Maybe it's because fatal car accidents are so common that they're un-newsworthy. Maybe it's because they don't always end up in court; often the perpetrator is dead and unaccountable for his misjudgment. Maybe it's because car wrecks generally don't involve sex. But reporters don't write about traffic fatalities as much as rape-murders, or with nearly the same degree of detail, or speculation about whether they were conscious or suffering.
You wonder whether, if we got capital-case coverage for every car wreck, detailing every injury, every gouged lung, every crushed skull, every split intestine, maybe people would pay attention to the realities most likely to threaten us.
They used to. In the early 20th century, when an automobile fatality was a novelty, reporters did detail, sometimes with clinical murder-trial precision, injuries of the victims. Now it's typically not even front-page news. And, today, it's considered poor form to suggest that by the time an automobile victim died, they were already missing eyes, or an arm; we don't hear how long they struggled to breathe. Victims "died as a result of their injuries." That's all. It sounds almost peaceful, or heroic.
But maybe it's best that way. If we learned about everything that happens in those awful car wrecks, gosh, we'd worry every time we got in our cars.