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.
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.