Friday's state semi-final softball game between Lutheran South of St. Louis and Jefferson City Helias was a match-up of two state-ranked teams. Lutheran South, a private school in the south St. Louis suburbs, had battled to the state tournament and was anxious to face the favored Helias. When the dust cleared early Friday afternoon, Helias had won. But the game was no longer the story.
Just prior to the game, three students from Lutheran South were killed in a tragic accident on Interstate 70 just inside the Columbia city limits. Anyone who has driven that route knows where I-70 crosses U.S. 63 just as you enter Columbia.
The car containing five teen-agers was traveling at a high rate of speed when it drifted to the shoulder, over-corrected and headed across the median. It was struck by a tractor-trailer in an instant. And in that same instant, the lives of dozens if not hundreds of students and families changed. That's just how fast it happens.
For parents with children of driving age, Friday's accident was the ultimate nightmare. What started as a day of excitement and school spirit ended tragically just a few miles short of its destination. Inexperience and high speed will be listed as the cause of the fatal mishap. But the accident report won't detail the way lives are changed in the blink of an eye.
Two of those killed were 16. The third fatality was only 14. Two other teen-age passengers were injured.
The weather was clear and the visibility on that stretch of roadway is excellent. Just a mile or so down the road the highway becomes somewhat congested. But those factors are not to blame. It's the invincibility of youth, it's that feeling that these things happen to others and not to me, it's the inexperience and the high speed and perhaps, it's fate.
Regardless of the reasoning, the hurt is just the same. I have a daughter at the University of Missouri in Columbia who travels that same route on a regular basis. And though I block those thoughts from my mind, I realize it could have just as easily been her or her friends. It's that dark thought that lives quietly in the back of all parents' minds. It never goes away.
On Saturday, Lutheran South was scheduled to play the consolation game in the state tournament. I can only imagine it was a somber affair. Like the lives lost in New York on Sept. 11, our world can change in an instant. We may search for answers or logic but it will never come. Not for a parent or a friend or a family member. We will search for the remainder of our days yet the answers will never come. Faith remains but answers are illusive.
This week there will be three funerals. And somehow life will go on. But every time you travel to Columbia and arrive at that section of roadway, I hope this tragic episode comes to mind. Maybe these young people will leave a legacy that will someday cause someone else to take greater caution and care. That's a big price to pay. And yet now, it's all we can hope for.