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June 6th, 2008
05:31 PM ET

The best and worst in us

Surveillance video shows a hit and run and the lack of response from passersby.
Surveillance video shows a hit and run and the lack of response from passersby.

Cate Vojdik
AC360° Writer

During last night’s broadcast we were covering two breaking stories, and I was scanning the wires and web for any new information. That’s when I came across the traffic surveillance video showing a 78-year-old man being mowed down by a hit-and-run driver and then basically ignored as he lay motionless in the middle of a busy street while at least 10 cars drove by and a crowd of people gathered – at a distance. The first reports said that not one person called 911. The police chief in Hartford, Connecticut corrected those reports, saying four people had called 911 within a minute of the accident and EMS arrived shortly after.

I was relieved to hear that, but I’m still left wondering why no one in that crowd bothered to stop traffic while the man lay bleeding and cars swerved around him on the busy street. What’s more, the video shows some people not stopping at all as they walked down the sidewalk and glanced at the scene. Not one person approached the man to see if he had a pulse or needed CPR. No one even held his hand or offered a kind word.

Today the man, Angel Arce Torres, is reportedly fighting for his life – and like so many others, I’m obsessing about the obvious: Why did no one step in to help an elderly man so clearly and urgently in need – even if only to offer comfort?
Working in news can skew your perspective, dividing the world into random acts of kindness - and equally random acts of cruelty. Both types of stories are quick to make headlines. But something about this story cut through the clutter of all the other awful things we report on. It’s certainly fuel for my cynical side and a sad counterpoint to stories of selflessness.

Just two months ago here in New York, a mechanic jumped onto the subway tracks and bounded across the deadly third rail to rescue an intoxicated stranger who had toppled unconscious off the opposite platform. Afterward, the hero dashed back across the tracks to catch a train home, not even waiting for a thank you. It was reminiscent of last year’s dramatic rescue by Wesley Autrey, a 50-year-old construction worker and Navy veteran, who saved a teenager who had fallen off a subway platform after having a seizure. Mr. Autrey, without hesitating, jumped onto the tracks and covered the boy with his body as the train passed over them. Both survived, barely injured. Mr. Autrey’s two young daughters watched from the platform.

There's a lot of talk about change in this election year, with some people comparing the excitement Barack Obama is inspiring with the excitement that Robert F. Kennedy generated 40 years ago. But real change requires small acts of will every day in addition to legislative acts and leadership. The hit-and-run story gives me pause.

Yesterday was the anniversary of RFK’s assassination and the New York Times asked his children to write about their memories of their father. Kathleen Townsend Kennedy wrote movingly about RFK returning home from the Mississippi Delta, where he’d been conducting Senate hearings on poverty. She remembered him describing a family living in a one-room shack; the children were starving, bellies distended and covered with sores. Townsend-Kennedy recalled what her father told her that day: “You have a great responsibility. Do something for these children. Do something for your country.” She was 15 years old at the time. I read her op-ed piece in the morning, many hours before I saw the hit-and-run video. It seems to me the messages in each speak to the best and worst in us.

Father's Day is just a week away, and Mr. Torres remains in critical condition in a hospital. His son, Angel Arce Torres Jr., is named after him. Mr. Torres could have been any of our fathers. Did that thought not cross anyone’s mind as he bled in the street unattended?


Filed under: AC360° Staff
soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. paul in. the west

    Had an opportunity to get a lady out of the street in fort lauderdale awhile back and truly believed both of us were minutes from death. she was old had loss of memory and just decided to sit down on a four lane street with no idea where to go or what to do. I used my car to block traffic upstream and got her to the median while tires were screaming people shooting me the bird and making stupid comments but it all worked out thanks to God.

    July 12, 2008 at 1:14 am |
  2. Shelly

    The fact that no one raced to help the man in the hit and run accident is partly due to the "numbing effect."

    We as humans are slowly, perhaps, quickly becoming more insensitive to moral, painful, violent and cruelity issues.

    We watch the war and people being killed and maimed everyday.
    We hear and witness horrible events in the news and on the streets. Children are growing up in an increasingly desensitizing mileau.
    We care but we are getting used to horror, destruction and death.
    It is all around us. We have no choice. We have to develop a hard cover to survive.

    The challenge, if it is a challenge, is to develop a balance between caring, knowing when to care, knowing when to help and not be overcome with neutral feelings for humanity.

    Reminds me of a book: Man's Inhumanity to Man

    June 9, 2008 at 1:48 pm |
  3. S Baker

    I am not surprised at all. First we teach our children STRANGER DANGER. None of them are going to help.

    Then there's the courts. No matter what someone did in this situation, everyone is going to be sued. Either for helping, not helping, not having a crosswalk, insufficient traffic analysis, etc.

    June 8, 2008 at 10:42 am |
  4. jim

    i think most americans are just into themselves that why the world is mess up

    June 7, 2008 at 10:12 pm |
  5. Lee

    I can't believe that no one would help this poor man! You don't have to "get involved" to hold someone's hand and offer what comfort you can and let them know help is coming. Put yourself in the situation and imagine others passing by you in a time of need! I truly do not understand Americans!!

    June 7, 2008 at 9:34 pm |
  6. Sheron-OH

    i understand this video, I was living in Atlanta and got sick on Marta and I slump down sick and final drag myself off the train only to lay their seeing people walk past me. By the way I was on my way to work, I worked at Wachovia Bank in Atlanta. No One, no One stopped to help me not even offer to get help. Most of my adult life I lived in small town of Sandusky Oh and after this happen I graciously went back to the life of small town.
    People have become so in tune with oh here is my $5 donation so I care-but thats all

    June 7, 2008 at 2:01 pm |
  7. Barb Townsend

    P.S. yes it is really really disheartening, what happened, and if I were the family of this man I would have such a bleak sadness, thinking about him laying there unattended....
    Thankfully he will probably be OK.

    June 7, 2008 at 11:29 am |
  8. Barb Townsend

    I disagree that this is "typical American behavior," as one poster put it. Yes it is horrible that no one was out in the street stopping traffic and tending to the man.
    I feel this incident is part of the ebb and flow of random particles many acts of heroism could have occurred in one spot just a few miles away yet none here...
    Thank the Lord at least for the four people who called 911 immediately.

    June 7, 2008 at 11:26 am |
  9. Mel Araiza, Phoenix, AZ

    I think many of us should be asking ourselves, "What would I have done in that situation?" "Would I have helped or been too scared to get involved?"

    Personally I knew what I would have done and I'm not proud of it. I would have frozen. I would have been too much in shock to do anything. I've been in situations like these and I know what happens to my body when these sort of things happen. I freeze up and I hate myself for it, thinking, "I could have helped. I could have saved a life."
    This is just me being honest.

    I'm not going to blame those people for not helping. How much help could they have possibly given, anyway? Mr. Torres's injuries were beyond their help. And I wouldn't have recommended moving him because it might cause him for pain and harm. All they could do was give him kind words of hope and formed a human barrier around him so that he wouldn't get run over again. It's all about being kind-hearted humans. One day it might be one of us in the middle of the road...

    June 7, 2008 at 3:36 am |
  10. Bill

    I got the impression from watching the video when you showed it tonight that the drivers of the two cars were working in coordination with each other. I tried to watch the video again over the Internet but the link did not load properly. It seemed that they were driving together, racing, following each other or something, because they were both passing a car, one right behind the other on a double line, and their closeness to each other seemed to indicate familiarity. In addition to this bumper, of the first car looks pretty distinct and this should make it easier to locate. The first car pulled off on a side street and the second car continued straight as if they suddenly did not know each other. The driver of the second car would probably have reacted in a more responsible manner, getting the driver's license, stopping to report, or something, if s/he did not know the driver of the first car. That's my Sherlock Holmes take of the incident.

    June 7, 2008 at 12:10 am |
  11. Annette, Washington, DC

    This is a horrible occurence and shows the coldness of people. I pray for him and his family.

    June 6, 2008 at 11:45 pm |
  12. Annie Kate

    Its terrible that so many people just walked or drove by and did not stop to help. I remember the quote "No man is an island" and I wonder if that is what we are all trying to be – an island unto ourselves. What a shame. No wonder we can't connect as Americans – we can't even connect as humans much less countrymen.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    June 6, 2008 at 9:55 pm |
  13. EJ (USA)

    I heard today that there were actually 4 calls to 911.

    June 6, 2008 at 9:42 pm |
  14. Beth

    Jesus wept!

    June 6, 2008 at 8:56 pm |
  15. Stacy

    Hey there Spider. I actually went well past Psych 101, but hey, gotta use that major for something, right? And I minored in sarcasm, so thanks for the "compliment." You have an enlightening weekend.

    June 6, 2008 at 8:53 pm |
  16. Spider

    Mark, Sacramento, CA-

    What difference does the neighborhood type or the socioeconomic status of its residents matter?

    Maybe you should check with Stacy. She could scan chapter 12 for statistics on how likely each individual in different neighborhoods is to provide help to a stranger in distress.

    June 6, 2008 at 8:40 pm |
  17. Ann

    This was, by far, one of the saddest stories I had seen in a long time. I don't understand all these people. How did they NOT do something? Our prayers are with him and his family.

    June 6, 2008 at 8:34 pm |
  18. Spider

    Stacy-

    We all appreciate the input of the Psychology 101 student. Enlightening.

    June 6, 2008 at 8:33 pm |
  19. Loretta from California

    I hope you were able to capture their license plate number. They deserve whatever our justice system will charge them with, and more.

    June 6, 2008 at 8:09 pm |
  20. Ben

    unfortunately, if you help someone who is injured and they end up dying as a reault of those injuries...the family can sue you.

    June 6, 2008 at 7:44 pm |
  21. Michael, NC

    Just shows what people value in this world today. Can't stop to take any time to help someone in dire need. It's pathetic and dirty, which is the world we live in every day.

    June 6, 2008 at 7:29 pm |
  22. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    Society is too self focused.

    They were probably late for something and didn't want to be bothered by helping....sad.

    There were others who seemed afraid to get hit themselves and stayed out of the way.

    And we call ourselves civilized.

    June 6, 2008 at 7:20 pm |
  23. Michele, Oregon

    It is so sad. We need contemplation AND action, a self-forgetfulness in times like these. All I can do is pray that if ever I were in a similar situation, I would have come to Mr. Torres side at least for comfort and safety of surrounding traffic.

    Mr. Torres, our prayers are with you tonight especially. Lo siento from the bottom of our hearts and via con Dios all the way to complete recovery.

    June 6, 2008 at 7:19 pm |
  24. Larry

    I guess there were no reports of people helping somebody, not newsworthy.

    June 6, 2008 at 7:18 pm |
  25. Mari, Salt Lake City

    This was a tragedy. What does this say about our people? However, there are many millions among us who would have helped. We can't paint everyone with a broad stroke.

    I hope this poor man is okay, and they find out who hit him.

    June 6, 2008 at 7:12 pm |
  26. Heather

    Ive watched that footage four or five times and each time my hands cover my open mouth. I still cant believe cars drove around his body and people just stood by and looked on. Its like I was watching a scene from TV. Only maybe the people there are soo desensitized by everything we see on TV that they would rather watch than actually show real compassion and help a helpless wounded suffering human being. Perhaps they who watched and did nothing have lost touch with their own humanity. Its shameful and nothing to be proud of. All I can say is how horrible it was to watch and that his life may have not mattered to all of those people who drove around his body and those who just stood and looked at him, but I know his life matters to his family to the police and to all of us who have watched who wished we could help him.

    June 6, 2008 at 7:07 pm |
  27. JC- Los Angeles

    Watching the horrific accident and it's immediate aftermath sums up an awful lot. As a society, we are always rushing to get someplace, often times not even knowing how to get there while knocking over anyone and everyone that stands in our way. To expect civility, decency and respect towards fellow man is asking an awful lot of our consumer-driven, instant gratification, me-first, glutonous consumption society. When something like this happens, people always say it's unbelievable; I always correct them and say it's completely believable yet unfathomable. Behavior like this is unacceptable. I'm hopeful this gentleman can get the attention, care, respect and dignity that he deserves. Knowing the leaders in America today and their inability to accomplish anything of note, I'm worried that this wonderful man will not receive the healthcare, support and love that this country needs to extend to all citizens. Wake up America.

    June 6, 2008 at 7:00 pm |
  28. Melissa

    It just occurred to me that because we are a sue happy society, people may be afraid to help for fear of being sued if something worse happens to the victim if a bystander comes to their aid.

    June 6, 2008 at 6:58 pm |
  29. Kent Fitzsimmons,Illinois

    They must of been Republicans.....................

    June 6, 2008 at 6:56 pm |
  30. Mary H. St. Louis, MO

    What is wrong with people. The least they could have done is tried to calmly block traffic or alert the oncoming traffic. He could have gotten run over again.

    I took a tumble while walking in downtown St. Louis, Mo, you know the trip over the crack or your shoes and down to the ground feeling like a fool ... wondering how in the heck did that happen. Two individuals who were crossing the street did come over to see that I was ok. I was fine and laughing my head off .. like what the heck did I just do.

    So I stil have some faith in human beings and their ability to be decent and kind.

    June 6, 2008 at 6:53 pm |
  31. Melissa

    Have we become that self-absorbed to not help someone in need or is it because we watch so much "reality" tv that we've become insensitized? In another 100 years the world may not be around if we continue at this rate.

    June 6, 2008 at 6:50 pm |
  32. Stacy

    Many people will probably read this story and attribute it to the world we live in today, but social psychologists can tell you this lack of help is nothing new. The "bystander effect" is defined as a social phenomenon in which an individual is less likely to intervene in an emergency when other people are present because they feel a "diffused responsibility," or in order words, assume someone else will help. These terms are often used in discussion of the infamous case of Kitty Genovese, the Queens woman stabbed to death in front of her apartment in 1964 while some of her neighbors inside heard parts of the attack and did nothing.

    Someone who needs help can combat the bystander effect by asking a specific person for help and being explicit in what that entails. Often people won't stop because they don't think they personally are capable of helping or they simply don't know what to do to help. Unfortunately, Mr. Torres' injuries were most likely too severe for this.

    As we go about our busy daily lives, it's important to remember that there's a world going on around us and just because you assume someone else will pick up the slack and be the good Samaritan, that's not always going to be the case. In fact, everyone around you might be thinking the same thing.

    June 6, 2008 at 6:49 pm |
  33. Barbara

    Don't you dare scold or judge ... it's scary, jumping into an unknown situation, getting involved in a rescue ... not everyone has the fortitude for it, and I wonder how many people walked by because they were too afraid to get involved, not because they just plain didn't care.

    June 6, 2008 at 6:47 pm |
  34. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    I think it's the fear of getting involved, having to take responsibility for someone outside of ourselves, and actually God forbid caring about a complete stranger. I've been in two horrible car accidents in my life (I almost died in the first and another woman and her dog died in the other vehicle in the second). Both times, complete strangers stopped and helped us. I will always be grateful to people whose names I still don't know. I have a responsibility to pay it back whenever and wherever I can. We all have a great responsibility to each other no matter how much or little we have, no matter how large or small the catastrophe that befalls someone. It's just about being a good neighbor in our world. They must have lost the memo in the incident reported last night.

    June 6, 2008 at 6:45 pm |
  35. Mark, Sacramento, CA

    Typical American behavior. What else do you expect in a society where $$ is the true God, and we are raised bombarded with messages of consumption, it's all about me/you/us, and we are TOO diverse to where there is no consensus, Americans Sukk! Could you tell us a little about Hartford, Connecticut–is it ghetto? Barrios? Illegals community? what part of Hartford did this take place in? Poor? Affluent? Middle class?

    June 6, 2008 at 6:06 pm |
  36. Patty Harris

    There are a lot of people who just don't care about anything past their noses. It has been evident even in the blogs during the primaries that there is a lot of hate out there. It is scary to think that these people want change and yet they stay in some sort of imaginary world where only they exist. I am 60 years old and an educated white woman and there are times that I am ashamed of some of the people in this country, including our government that definitely does not set a good example for our children and young adults.

    June 6, 2008 at 6:02 pm |
  37. Rose from Southern Calif

    This tells us about the world we lived today, when nobody lend a helping hand to help this man. I wouldn't count on our Lord to come into this world yet.

    June 6, 2008 at 5:54 pm |
  38. Cindy

    God...I can't believe that someone ran that man over and no one stopped to help him. That is just plain ridiculous!! What is wrong with people?

    Cindy...Ga.

    June 6, 2008 at 5:52 pm |
  39. Bill

    It's all about civic education – values, power, authority, honesty, responsibility.

    June 6, 2008 at 5:52 pm |

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