Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Advocacy Of A Different Sort: Justice For My Dad

Where have I been, for like, the last year, you’re wondering?

Other than sharing that my dad died, I didn’t really get into the specifics of what happened.  I wasn’t ready, and was trying to see how some things going on in the background played out.

In an effort to protect those involved, I tried to stay as silent as possible while trying to do as much as possible.  But it has become clear that such tactics will get me nowhere.  And now I am ready to share about this publicly in the hope that sharing this will move things forward in a positive and productive way.

As many of you do know, there was a severe storm in Michigan on August 11, 2014, that caused widespread flooding.  My dad was trying to make his way home from work.  Eventually, my mom could not reach my dad and had a vague description from him about where he was. 

My dad was never 15 minutes late, so my mom became extremely worried, given that and the dangerous nature of the storm, after more time went by and my dad was still not home.  She attempted to file a missing person’s report at all of the local police departments in the area, but they all refused because my dad had not been missing for 24- to 48-hours.

As it turns out, this waiting period is a fictitious rule that has been popularized on TV shows.  It’s encouraging to know that, that’s how some police departments come up with their policies – TV. 

Ultimately, while my dad was noted as missing, he wasn’t put in the state database, which would have prompted law enforcement to look for him.  With him simply being in the county database, nothing was done.

My dad was found almost 24 hours later, dead in his car.  He wasn’t found by the police, but by a man who had seen him (alive) the night before.

For my family and I, the question we will never stop asking is whether things might have turned out differently if the police had been out looking for him.  Of course, those in law enforcement make themselves feel better by saying it wouldn’t have mattered, but they don’t have to live with that question for the rest of their lives like we do.     

There are many things I have done already.  I share this so that if people have other ideas, they can let me know, but I won’t end up with tons of comments telling me to do what I’ve already done:

-         Wrote a letter to my parents’ local police department to express concern about the way the situation was handled, including botched death notification.
-         Had a terrible phone conversation with a lieutenant from the above department, who told me that my dad didn’t warrant departmental resources, which prompted me to write a letter to state officials. 
-         Obtained police report via Freedom of Information Act request, which caused me to question why my dad had not been entered into the statewide database.
-         Wrote letter to state officials.
-         Worked with several offices to see what could be done about this situation.
-         Contacted detective that was assigned to my dad’s case.
-         Obtained death certificate.  Cause of death is listed as “atherosclerotic heart disease.”  The problem with this is that according to this NPR article - http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/05/20/408011861/map-reveals-the-distinctive-cause-of-death-in-each-state - atherosclerotic heart disease is the most common cause of death in the state of Michigan.  Do they just throw that on every person’s death certificates when they don’t know for sure?  I have maintained throughout this past 15 months that the cause of death was not natural because if it hadn’t been for the storm and the lack of law enforcement action, my dad would still be alive.  
-         Tried to get in contact with the person who my dad had spoken to on the street where he was found.  Unable to do so.
-         Spoke to someone high up in Michigan law enforcement administration that was referred to me by one of the representatives I was working with.  I was told that legislatively, nothing can be done.  I’ve been told that a law that goes back to 1968 says that people may be entered into the database immediately, but this is not a requirement.  There are two problems with this.  First, if missing persons are entered into the database at the discretion of local departments, this will continue to happen.  Second, there are protections for children and the elderly, but apparently, everyone aged 18-75 doesn’t matter.  I am told that if everyone “missing” is entered into the database, it will be a strain on resources, but this has not proven to be the case in states that have adopted similar legislation.    
-         Decided to no longer remain silent.  Started change.org petition. 

Something I have struggled with over the last year is grappling with this tragedy while also living with my chronic illnesses.  When I first got sick, I selfishly thought that getting sick was the worst thing that could ever happen to me.  Then, when my dad died, the worst thing that ever happened to me, happened to someone else.  That has rocked me. 

I have always been open and honest with my readers, and it has pained me not to share this experience with you.  I have been wanting to.  But I needed to do it at the right time.  Is there ever a right time?  Probably not.  But right now is the right time.

Here’s what I need from you:

I ask that you please sign and share the following change.org petition - https://www.change.org/p/michigan-state-house-michigan-state-senate-pass-neal-s-law

You don’t have to live in Michigan to sign!

I am so grateful to those that have already signed, shared, and posted comments of support. 

I’m working on a book about this experience, which I will hopefully have some time to work on more in the next few months.  I ask that you assist me with this when the time is right.

I have been told that nothing legislative can happen, but I don’t believe that, hence the petition.  What I have told those in the system is that I will no longer remain silent.  I will share this story far and wide until something gets done so that no other family in Michigan experiences what my family and I did.

Although my dad was missing for “just” 24 hours, I can’t describe to you the feeling when you don’t know where your loved one is.  It’s indescribable.  It was the longest 24 hours of my entire life.  So I can only imagine what those people go through whose loved ones are missing for longer or are never found at all.  No family should have to live with the question of whether their loved one would still be alive if law enforcement had acted expediently.

This is the mantra that I will live by in order to persevere although many in power stand in my way:

“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world.  And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

– Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9; Yerushalmi Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a

3 comments:

  1. I am so sorry to hear what happened and I admire what you are doing to help others not have to suffer the same terrible consequences.

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  2. Signed. I'm so sorry for your loss.

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  3. Signed. You are correct about the way physicians fill out death certificates. Many times they will just put in "cardiopulmonary arrest" which means nothing because the heart and lungs always stop when a person dies.

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