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A lesson we must learn from a foolish tragedy
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 5/8/2010 11:08 PM

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As far as we can tell, Lora Hunt is not an evil woman. In fact, quite the contrary, she seems kind and caring, a nurse who has devoted herself to aiding the afflicted.

In many ways, she could be the neighbor next door; she could be any of us.

On May 2, 2009, her activities as the day began were typically suburban. She worked in the garden with her grandchildren. Then, she got into her car to go meet one of her daughters for dinner.

She didn't mean to hurt anybody.

But hurt someone she did. Before Hunt's drive was ended, the life of 56-year-old wife and mother Anita Zaffke was carelessly and needlessly snuffed out.

Hunt was convicted Thursday of reckless homicide in Zaffke's death. Prosecutors presented a convincing case that she had been painting her nails moments before her car crashed at 50 mph into Zaffke and her motorcycle, stopped for a light at an intersection in Lake Zurich.

"I ran to her and I got on my knees and I looked in her eyes," Hunt recounted through tears on the witness stand. "I said, 'Oh, my God! Oh, my God!' but I've seen death before and she was already gone."

What unspeakable heartache all the way around.

As Zaffke's son Greg said after the guilty verdict was reached, "There are no winners here, no celebration or happiness. Two families will forever carry the anguish and hurt caused by the recklessness of one person."

Online commenters are frequently cruel and too often childish, but we've been struck by the thoughtful wisdom many displayed in response to the verdict.

"This is a very unfortunate incident and result," said one, "but it must serve as a lesson to all who think they're immune to this very type of thing... It's difficult enough to operate a vehicle and pay attention to all the actual and potential surrounding situations without doing other tasks in the motor vehicle that cause distraction."

Most among us would not be so foolish as to paint our nails while driving (although there amazingly are a few), but how easy it's become for us to allow ourselves to be distracted.

How many of us text or read messages or get preoccupied with a phone or even finish getting dressed while driving a car?

And as one online commenter said, "You think texting is a driving hazard now? Those will be the 'good old days' when the masses can afford iPhones."

None of us who do these things think of ourselves as criminals. None of us who do them think we might harm ourselves or someone else. We see ourselves, much as Hunt saw herself, as average people working in a little multi-tasking as we hurry about our day.

In reality, none of us who do these things really think.

Lora Hunt didn't mean to hurt anybody.

But then, you can say the same thing about a drunk who gets behind the wheel and thinks he can make it home.

One online commenter responded eloquently to the empathetic view that Zaffke's death wasn't intentional. "Of course it was," this commenter said. "She (Hunt) intentionally decided that painting her fingernails was much more important than paying attention to the road."

Our heart goes out to Lora Hunt. She seems like a good and decent person.

But a penalty must be paid and a message must be sent. We will be disappointed if the judge fails to impose a prison sentence; tough love was needed to reduce DUI tragedies, and it is needed if we are also to curtail the menace of distracted driving.

All of us need to take this seriously.

Anita Zaffke was a good and decent person too.