They are not hurt directly so their plight often goes unnoticed. But make no mistake. Accidents can have more than one victim.
True story. Some years ago, someone I know was on their way to work in London. There had been torrential rain overnight, and the train station through which he was hurrying was puddled with water that had poured through the ancient and poorly-maintained roof. Worse than the puddles, however, was the thin sheen of water that lie across the entire concourse. That thin sheen combined with leather-soled shoes and a certain degree of haste resulted in an accident that was equal parts slapstick comedy and slasher movie.
The man in question reports that his feet slipped from under him, causing him to fall not down but up; first one foot then the other leapt into the air at – as it transpired – head height, performing something akin to a football bicycle kick.
If the tale ended there, it would be the perfect pratfall performed for hundreds of unsuspecting commuters; an amusing anecdote to share with colleagues when they got to work. Unfortunately, the tale does not end there.
As I mentioned, the highest arc of the bicycle kick was at head height. More specifically, it was at the height of a passing woman’s head. The heel of his shoe struck her in the mouth, sending both her front teeth spinning into the air. Apparently, there was a lot of blood. There was quite a bit of screaming too.
Apologies were effusive. Station staff were called, details were exchanged and then everyone went about their business. Maybe the injured woman sued the station for negligence but we will never know. The man in question never heard another word about it.
So what is the name for the part he played in this hideous turn of events? He was not the assailant, even though he had directly caused a woman to part company with two teeth and a copious amount of blood. He was not the perpetrator, which is a term that – like assailant – suggests a deliberate or premeditated act. Then again, he wasn’t the victim, even though he did endure a few weeks of nightmares over his entirely accidental drop-kick of an entirely innocent woman.
So what exactly in the name or the term given to someone that is involved in an accident but who is neither victim nor perpetrator in the truest sense?
I ask because that is precisely the situation in which a man – presumably the digger driver – currently finds himself following an accident in Essex in which a young demolition worker was seriously hurt. Details of what, precisely, happened to 20-year old Shannon Brasier are sketchy at best. Local news reports suggest, variously, that she was struck by a digger, a crane or a JCB (in UK media circles, JCB is a generic term; shorthand for any kind of construction equipment and not necessarily a machine originating from JCB’s Staffordshire World Headquarters). Equally vague is the precise cause of the incident. Did Shannon Brasier stray into a machine’s work zone? Did she approach the machine on a blind-side? Was the operator momentarily distracted? Did he slew without checking the machine’s mirrors? As we stand today, we don’t even know if it was the front or the rear of the machine that struck Shannon and placed her in intensive care at a nearby hospital.
The coverage of the incident – and I will include myself in this – has been (perhaps justifiably) focused upon the plight of the victim. She sustained serious injuries to her head and it is believed that she may have a broken neck, although there is hope that she has escaped the paralysis that is often associated with such injuries. She has been in a coma and has suffered brain injuries, although the severity is not yet known. It may be some time before her family and friends receive a full prognosis.
We know all of that. What we don’t know is anything about the machine operator. We don’t even know his name. All we know is that he has been charged with grievous bodily harm and subsequently released by the local police.
All of which brings me back to my earlier point. There is no suggestion whatsoever that the injuries suffered by Shannon Brasier were – in any way – the result of a deliberate act. The fact that the man has been released suggests that he is not a digger-driving psychopath or that he is considered dangerous in any way whatsoever. So he is neither assailant nor perpetrator, even though he has sent a young woman to the hospital. Although he will likely suffer nightmares and sleepless night and carry the burden of guilt with him for the rest of his life, he is not a victim either.
Or maybe he is. Assuming he was operating the machine in the correct manner, in the correct place and that he is found – hopefully – to have neither drugs nor alcohol in his system, then he is surely a victim of circumstance? Sadly, that will provide no defence if and when the case goes to court.
It is easy, and it is RIGHT to feel pity for Shannon Brasier. She is the one in hospital; the one with swelling on her brain; the one with cuts to her face and her upper body. The fact that she is a young woman somehow makes the situation worse. It shouldn’t, but it does.
It is my sincere hope and the hope of all right-minded people that she makes a full recovery and that – sooner or later – she walks out of the hospital unaided. Whatever happens, the chances are that she will bear physical scars.
But we should also spare a thought for that unnamed digger driver. Like Shannon Brasier, he too is one of our own. And although his emotional and mental scars will be invisible, they could take just as long to heal as those on Shannon’s body.
Perhaps, in this instance, the perpetrator is a victim too.