Hopefully Tragedy Will Serve as a Life Lesson for a Generation

Flowers piled high, and memorial candles aglow balloons and posters with friends writing sit at the location where 5 Burbank kids lost their lives Saturday morning. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Thoughts from the Bullpen

By Craig Sherwood
Executive Editor

There are many nights that when monitoring the police and fire radios, I hear all sorts of life changing moments going on that affect individuals around the city. Saturday morning at 4:10 a.m., l was listening and heard the tragic news reported by Engine 11 that they had a ‘S-5’ at a crash scene. A S-5 stands for a deceased person; the man’s voice on the scanner then said that there was still too much smoke and the firefighters could not see inside well.

Minutes later he said that there were now five S-5’s.

While I have heard or been on the scene of one or two deaths in the past through violence or accident, the gravity of five was overwhelming. Of course even one death is just as important as multiple casualties, but our society tends to focus more on mass fatalities.

At that point I began to wonder if these were Burbank people. Because of the proximity to the freeway, there were many possibilities, but since the car had apparently exited the off ramp at Scott Road, the immediate thought were these might be locals.

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As police worked the scene, a report of the car being registered to a Burbank address then hit home and I knew at that time that this would be not only a tragedy that would touch individual lives, but the heart of a city.

Emotions then completely enveloped me. I have also been a high school baseball coach for 30 years and have spent the past several back here in Burbank. My immediate thought was of my current and former players. They are not just kids who play baseball for you or the school, but a family that you spend hours upon hours with.

At the same time I suddenly thought of all the parents who were about to be woken and notified that their son or daughter had just lost their life.  I am just a high school coach, I could not even imagine what it must be to be a parent.

For the next couple of weeks the facts and the anger will come out. First will be blame, then will be the tests to see if alcohol was a factor. Police will determine if speed and the amount of people in the vehicle was a safety factor.  These are all questions that need to be answered but in the long scheme are really not important.

This will become a teaching moment and life experience.

These were teenagers. In most cases, they have just been given some new found freedom of being 18 and considered by our society as adults, which to them meant they could do whatever they want, whenever they wanted. Don’t judge. Everyone reading this who is now adult can remember back to that time also and understand.

And anyone also who can remember back to their teenage or young adult years can probably remember that there was some circumstance that they got themselves into and somehow escaped injury and now look back and ask, “What was I thinking then?” That is part of what youth is. No one can tell you anything because you know what is best and you can handle anything.

Let’s face it, every teenager out there is invincible. Nothing can happen to him or her. They never believe that bad things can happen to them and they can take care of themselves.  It’s not about right or wrong or how their parents raised them, it is all about the fact that they are now ‘adults’ and they know better.

Parents do the best they can to raise their kids also. They try to teach them to be good people, to make the right decisions, to make something of their lives. They only want the best for their son or daughter. Children have no idea how much their parents worry about them until the circle of life makes the children parents someday with their own kids.

I never have believed in telling a player something and then use the words ‘because I told you so.’ I have always felt that they usually just rebel and think they still know better, that I am just using my authority to tell them what to do.  Instead, i always tell them the reason why I want something done a particular way and the reasons behind it.

This is all about life lessons. When you experience something, it makes you wiser and most young people just don’t have the experiences yet to make good decisions. You can tell them things until you are blue in the face, but until they experience it, they have don’t have a baseline to remember.

Hopefully, there are some younger people reading this that don’t usually spend their time on a news site or even watch news on television.

To you, I say, think about what you are feeling right now. Think about the hurt, the loss in your heart, the people around you who are affected.  Think about the families that will have an open seat at Thanksgiving dinner for the rest of time. One brief decision could mean the difference of crawling into your bed at night or creating a void that will never be filled.

And don’t just think of friends and family.  This entire community feels the hurt right now.  The brave firefighters and police officers who responded to the scene and witnessed the devastation will have to live with that the rest of their lives.  Yes, they are trained professionals, but they are also mothers and fathers who have very real feelings.  These are all professionals who live to help people.  You may think that all they do are hassle kids when in truth, they really do care about ALL Burbank people young and old, rich and poor. They are hurting right now too.

If you are older and grew up in Burbank, you might remember a few accidents that have taken some of our youth before their time.

There was the tragic accident back in the 70’s on Parish by Burroughs that took the life of a student. In the late 80’s there was the fatal accident on Olive and Screenland when, after a late night party near Travel Town, a vehicle lost control and rolled into a gas station.

These events helped change their generations.  No doubt that there were many who thought twice before they did something that they felt might be wrong.

Luckily, there have not been many of these accidents in recent years. There had been programs over the years like those from the CHP that showed drunk driving accidents by teens and the Every 15 Minutes program that had been put on at high schools but has now been phased out locally due to budget cuts.

These programs would not have stopped this accident. You do wonder though if they were still in place if even one of the young people who lost their life may have made a different decision and not made that trip, though. This is not about blaming anyone, this is just about reminding people that you never know what might be accomplished when the message is constantly repeated.

Even our photographer, Ross A. Benson (who is also a father), has made up a PSA that we run on our website every year reminding people not to drink and drive. The tragic thing is the picture that he uses in the PSA is of another serious accident that took place in that exact same underpass as this recent crash.

Hopefully, as much hurt this accident has brought to so many people and families, our newest generation of teenagers and young adults will use this as a life experience. All they have to do is just keep this in the back of their minds. They are still going to do the things that teenagers do, you just hope that one of the things they don’t do is mingle alcohol and cars.

If this tragic accident can serve to remind just one young person to make the right decision, even when it is not a popular decision with his or her peers, then they can pay tribute to these families who will forever have a hole in their lives.

Everyone of us who live in Burbank have felt this loss of these incredibly talented young people and our condolences go out to their family and friends.

Today, their friends and family hurt, our community hurts, I hurt.

Life will go on, let’s just hope that our memory lingers.

MyBurbank runs this PSA every year. The accident is sadly in the same underpass as the accident this past weekend. (Ross A. Benson’s PSA)


  1. Love this so much. I was just telling a friend of the victims this same thing. Sharing this message is so important. Thanks coach.

  2. This article was beautifully written because it was from the heart. It’s hard to believe in this instance, that anyone would be placing scrutiny on this author’s use of language or grammatical conventions.

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