Vehicles are weapons too

Even your vehicle, and mine, can be transformed into engines of destruction in a matter of seconds.

January 9, 2017 22:31
3 minute read.
Jerusalem terror attack

Scene of Jerusalem ramming attack. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

With this latest vehicle- ramming attack in Jerusalem, killing four and wounding over a dozen, it’s time we added motor vehicles to the growing list of weapons of mass destruction. The evidence is in: a week before Christmas, a truck barreled into scores of shoppers at a holiday market in Berlin, Germany, killing 12 and wounding 48. A month earlier, an Ohio State University student, who was “sick and tired” of Muslims being “killed and tortured,” plowed his car into a crowd of people, wounding 11.

A few months before that, a truck blasted through a Nice promenade, plowing into thousands of pedestrians celebrating Bastille Day. 86 died and more than 400 were wounded.

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As I learned about each of these terrorism-linked incidents, my mind couldn’t help but backtrack to my own car-related calamity. In July 2003, I was standing at a fruit stand at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market when an older driver confused the gas pedal for the brake and careened through the market, leaving screams, blood and bodies in his wake. Sixty-three of us were wounded. Ten died.

Two weeks later, while I sat in a wheelchair recovering from a ruptured spleen, shattered pelvis and multiple fractures, the bystander who came to my aid at the accident scene visited me in the hospital.

Because I had no memory of the crash, she told me what she witnessed that day: as she went to step off the curb onto the street, the car sped past her. She ran down the street toward the market, where people and vendor stands were strewn everywhere. She found me lying on the ground, among multiple wounded and dead. When I asked her why she chose to help me, she said, “I might have run past you, but you reached up from the pavement and grabbed my sleeve.

You said, ‘please don’t let me die.’” Hearing those words made me feel as if I hadn’t yet woken from a bad dream. This is the kind of tragedy that happens to others, like those in Germany, Ohio and Nice – many rescued by other bystanders.

After the Berlin attack, authorities implemented heightened security measures, and erected concrete barriers at the market. But such interventions come late, post-mortem, if you will. They could’ve acted earlier, possibly preventing the tragedy. The CIA and M16 (British secret service) had warned German police that Christmas markets were top terrorist targets.

Furthermore, in response to a 2010 overseas terrorist threat calling for motor vehicles to be used to mow down large crowds, the FBI and US Department of Homeland Security issued an unclassified advisory.

We know these kinds of attacks are not new: in 2006, a University of North Carolina graduate plunged through campus in an SUV, attempting to “avenge Muslim deaths.” Nine people were wounded. Multiple people in Jerusalem were killed in 2008 when a group of Palestinians struck them down with cars, and bulldozers.

That same year, a militant group drove a dump truck into 70 Chinese police officers, killing 16. The list goes on.

Officials overseeing the Christmas market in Montreal also responded to the Berlin attack by installing concrete barriers. Law enforcement in New Orleans announced that they’ll turn Bourbon Street into a “pedestrian-only zone” for New Year’s, and will add lighted security towers staffed by police. They plan to employ similar measures during the Sugar Bowl and Mardi Gras. In New York City, police have amassed critical response teams around “high profile areas.”

The Guardian quotes Berlin’s police chief as saying, “The risk of terrorist attacks cannot be reduced to zero.” Still, government officials worldwide need to better inform and protect their people. At the very least, they should hold educational forums in communities with widely attended open-air venues, and ensure documentation about how to respond in the event of such disasters is accessible to all. Because here’s the brutal truth: motor vehicles are being used as weapons of mass destruction – “mass” as in the numbers of lives they extinguish and the massive blow they inflict upon survivors and families of the dead. Even your vehicle, and mine, can be transformed into engines of destruction in a matter of seconds, making us all vulnerable in ways we’ve hardly contemplated before.

The author is currently working on a memoir related to the 2003 Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Crash. You can visit Melissa at her author website, on Facebook and Twitter.

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