It takes a lot to shock people these days, but a 23-year-old Brighton man named Phocian Fitts pulled it off.
Fitts, who admitted that he struck and killed 80-year-old Theodore Schwalb in an Allston crosswalk Wednesday afternoon, was on television a few hours later, blithely confessing to what sounds a lot like vehicular manslaughter.
“As I’m driving, I’m driving too quick . . . to the point where it’s like, I couldn’t really stop,” Fitts told Boston 25 News reporter Drew Karedes, who should get a medal for not punching this guy in the face on the spot. Fitts also said the light was green and that he beeped at the man repeatedly but struck him with his SUV because swerving would have led him into a pole.
Why could he honk repeatedly but not brake? That was left unstated. And as for why he didn’t bother to stop?
“People hit and run people all the time,” Fitts said. This is sadly true, but it’s also not much of a legal defense: Fitts was arrested later that evening.
Even in an era of mass shootings that too quickly fade from memory, hearing someone openly give voice to such disregard for human life was jarring. Behind Fitts throughout the video, a child is dancing and mugging for the camera, putting the ghoulish finishing touches on the whole perverse thing.
But if Fitts’s callousness about killing a man was jaw-dropping, his ideas about driving were considerably less so. If anything, he gave voice to the unstated attitude that too many of us adopt behind the wheel: No one else matters, and get the hell out of my way.
If Fitts feels as if he did nothing wrong — like the whole thing was an unfortunate mishap — then that’s in part the result of a justice system that has long been very quick to excuse motorists. Too often, drivers who strike pedestrians face no charges or minor infractions. Research has found that penalties for crashes that kill pedestrians or bicyclists are often limited to traffic tickets or nothing at all.
Historically, here and around the country, the result has been prioritizing excuses over lives like Schwalb’s. The retired Stoneham art teacher was a foodie, friends said, who inspired students during 40 years of teaching.
At some basic level, Fitts’s blasé, self-incriminating idiocy in front of a television camera was an unvarnished version of America’s approach to pedestrian safety for decades. Thankfully, he was arrested; whether he’d even have been arrested if he hadn’t been so clear about his own culpability, we may never know.
“Right now, I’m not worried about nothing, man . . . I’m not a stone-cold killer,” Fitts said. Leaving an old man to die in the street and offering the verbal equivalent of the shrugging emoji would suggest otherwise.
“It just happened to be an unfortunate situation where I was driving. I don’t take drugs. I wasn’t intoxicated,” he told Boston 25 News, parroting, perhaps unwittingly, the magic words that have gotten countless drivers off the hook over the years: “Accidents happen, man.”
Meanwhile, people all over Massachusetts are painstakingly shepherding snapping turtles out of the road at such a clip that the State Police had to issue a warning, the Globe reported. We’ll go to great lengths to save an animal with the personality of a cigar cutter, but people will plow into an octogenarian in a crosswalk and just keep it moving.
Maybe if Schwalb had been a snapping turtle, he might have stood a better chance out there.Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.