Tragedy Strikes RP Driver

Christine/Coco’s Notes:

I am a member of the American Association for the Deaf Blind listserv and we have been sharing stories, articles and viable information in the past. Last week I decided to share my opinion article, “We Can Be Killing Machines” and got a lot of encouraging responses. One of them was a testament, a very compelling reason why Deaf people with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) (Deafness + RP = new medical name: Usher Syndrome) should NOT drive.

Thank you, Dolly of Manitoba, for sharing this letter. Truly, truly tragic. The writer of this letter, Eileen, had RP and she found the courage to write to the AADB listserv about her tragic mistake of driving a car. Her life was destroyed and soon after this letter was sent to AADB, Eileen killed herself.

Eileen, I hope that your story is going to change lives and make people realize that if they have visual impairments, they shouldn’t drive. I am hoping that this saves lives.

Tactile love,



Here is Eileen’s Letter dated Nov. 27, 2001:

Hello RP List,

My name is Eileen.   I am not a member of this list since I do not have a computer.  My friend Greg has asked me if I would tell my story.  It is a very hard story for me to tell and it hurts me tremendously just to remember it.

I was diagnosed with RP in my twenties.  My vision was still 20/20 at the time and the doctor told me it usually progresses very slowly so I thought it would have very little impact on my life.  In my thirties my eyesight started getting worse.  I started to get tunnel vision and my eyes took a long time adjusting to changes in light.

I stopped driving at night, and got other people to drive me as much as possible, but I still drove just a little on roads that I knew in my neighborhood.  I mostly drove to the grocery store.

I still had a valid drivers license because the state never asked me to get an eye exam, and in my regular checkups the eye doctor asked me about driving but did not press me.  One day, March 6th 1990, as I was driving down my very own street I heard a thud and a scream.

I had run over my neighbors six year old daughter who had been sitting on the curb.
She died three days later.  I just didn’t see her.  I was buried by the grief and sorrow and could not look her mother in the eyes ever again.

I told the police about not seeing well.  They got my medical records and charged me with third degree manslaughter and possessing a fraudulent license.
My auto insurance company charged me with fraud and would not cover me.  The girls family sued me for 4 million dollars damages, and I was and am a total wreck.  My friends all turned on me and the newspaper and tv coverage made
me afraid to go anywher in public.

My lawyers got the charges reduced to reckless endangerment with a 6 month suspended sentence.  I had to sell my home and go bankrupt, and my finances are still tangled in law suit appeals.  My employer fired me because of all the bad publicity.

The worst is the nightmares and the guilt.  I wish that I could bring that little girl back.  I relive that day over and over again.  I still feel the pain of that girls family and pray that they can forgive me.

I now can only see light and blurry shadows.  I often feel that God is punishing me for what I did.  I have had lots of therapy and am just now starting to put my life together.  I met Greg and other people with rp at the rehab center and that helps a lot.

Although I am begining to move forward, I ruined my life and took the life of a little girl.  It was an accident, but it was an accident that i should not have let happen.

I hope sharing this will help someone.



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10 Responses to Tragedy Strikes RP Driver

  1. This breaks my heart.

    Eileen needs to stop blaming herself and start to be proactive about this. What has happened cannot be changed. What she can do is to prevent this from happening again.

    I knew of one deaf individual who has Usher’s Syndrome and he refused to return the driver’s license mainly because he viewed it as a sign of independence. And his eyesight has been getting worse over the time. It is matter of time before he will injure/kill someone else in particular.

    Does that makes me accessory to this?


  2. C. says:

    This was a very interesting read, and I think you are doing a good job by sharing it with others (which is obviously what Eileen wanted).

    I also wanted to say I really enjoy reading your blogs (here and on your xanga). I’m sorry this may not be appropriate to the content of the post you’ve made, but I’ve no other way to contact you). Your posts are interesting and I admire what you do (spreading awareness, going to work in Nigeria..).

    Keep it up 🙂

    Oh, found you on DeafRead if you were wondering where the random comment came from. 😉

  3. mishkazena says:

    How sad that her poor judgement lead to an unnecessary death of a young girl and the resulting guilt drove Eileen to commit suicide. So two lives were lost.

    I’ll share a story, though this doesn’t involved Usher’s Syndrome. However, this driver had a medical condition posing a serious safety hazard to the public: epilepsy. His epilepsy was successfully controlled by medicine until few months prior to this incident. However, he continued to drive, disregarding warnings from his friends and family because he didn’t want to give up his freedom of traveling. Several months later, he drove into the wrong lane and hit another car head-on. Both he and the other driver were killed instantly. Had his family and friends intervened, the other driver would still be alive.

  4. Christine says:

    Ridor, we all are accessories to something in life. We allow our friends to take drugs, drink way too much alcohol and drive, or do insane things. We are not accountable ONLT if we have put our 2 cents in to that person and he/she akes the utlimate choice. We cannot call the cops and arrest them, however, we can change legislation. We can push Congress to force DMVs to do intensive testing, and for all to submit a report by their opthalmologist.

    C., thank you so much. I am glad that my blogs are making a difference. I should have contact info somewhere on my blogsite… tactiletheworld@gmail

    Hope to see more comments from you all.

  5. Todd Tobin says:

    Step on breake, change gear to ‘P’, take key out of ignition, put ‘for sale sign’ on window, give key to new owner. Your life is saved and so are other lives.

    I stopped driving when doctor advised me not to when he noticed my degrading peripheral vision. I had the ‘used to be’ I-365 permit (now it’s G-1) for a year. I had a brief experience of driving. Usher Syndromers/Retina Pigmentosians, do what 1st paragraph say. Be pride to do that or you lose pride. Which way? You pick. Look at what I picked. I thank to my family, friends even my wife, Denise for driving me all around and all over. *chills*

  6. Darryl Hackett says:

    My friend, having Usher’s Syndrome drove a car where I was one of his three passengers at night and we were in car accident in Washington, D.C. As a result; I suffered a broken collarbone and a few deep bruises and another passenger suffered a bruise below her knee and a swollen nose. Another passenger and my friend did not suffer any injury. The seatbelts saved our lives; otherwise, one or two of us would be killed.

    My friend found out that I had a broken collarbone and he felt awfully bad. I forgave him implicitly, because I did not want to see him carry his guilty all the time over this accident..

  7. Darryl Hackett says:

    Hey Todd!

    Remember you drove that PPD cart that the PPD guy forgot to take keys out?! What a ride! LMAO

  8. S.H. says:

    I am a mother of a child with Usher’s Syndrome. I know how hard it is to start loosing once’s sense of independence. Driving in our society means that you are free to go where you want and for individuals with Usher’s syndrome that is a very hard challenge to face, especially when all your peers are driving. Although I understand why we all want to have the freedom of driving, I know that we are all responsible for ourselves and others when we operate a car… I wish we all find creative ways to support individuals with visual impairments needs to be mobile with dignity!

  9. Jennifer says:

    Driving is a privelege, not a right. There is no acceptable excuse for driving when you know you are a danger to those around you; it is morally reprehensible. May God have mercy on the souls of those who drive regardless…

  10. Diane says:

    My old friend with US is still driving. I did warned her a few time. Every now and then I am worried sick about her, the drivers, passengers and pedestrians out there.

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