June 8, 2008
The Day the Traffic Did Not Stop in Hartford
By PETER APPLEBOME
The video of a 78-year-old man being tossed in the air after being hit by a car and then left in the street like a discarded food wrapper would have been hideous whoever the victim.
... The least anonymous man on Park Street, who, thanks to one sickening video, became an unlikely symbol of the scary anonymity of the modern street.
.. “Everyone knows Ponce and everyone loves Ponce,” said Marisa Estrada, who tends bar at El Bohio. “He’s the one who’s always doing something for someone else, so how could anyone have done this to him?”
Mr. Torres, in critical condition and apparently paralyzed, would have been merely the subject of a local crime story if not for two things.
The first is the insatiable appetite for daily video of the Internet and the nightly news. This one came in the form of a police video from May 30 that shows two cars, what looked like a dark Honda chasing a tan Toyota. Traveling on the wrong side of the street, the first just misses Mr. Torres, who had just bought milk at the corner store. The second hits him, sending him flying over the windshield. Both cars speed off. As Mr. Torres lies on the pavement, nine cars go past without stopping, people walk by or stop and look, seemingly without doing anything to stop traffic or comfort him, until a police cruiser on its way to another call drives up.
On Friday, people were still trying to make sense of what had happened. Some, like David Myers, 29 and unemployed, who was on Park Street where Mr. Torres was hit, said the metaphor was simpler than the reality. Rather than being indifferent, four people did telephone 911, he and others said. It happened so fast that many did not quite know what to do. (The police arrived in just over a minute.) People knew that the worst thing they could do would be to try to move an accident victim.
Others tried to put what happened in the context of street sociology. The accident occurred on a frazzled block across from a vacant lot, an area favored by homeless people and, some say, by drug users. One block over, where El Bohio is, where there’s more commerce and a stronger sense of community, people would have reacted faster, would have been more likely to recognize who the victim was and render aid.
But, of course, that man lying on Park Street might have been a homeless person or a drug user, and he might be Ponce with a container of milk, but he was still a human being, said Mr. Torres’s son, Angel Arce. If we can’t all be heroes, any human being, in the most traumatic moment of his life, deserves someone to stop traffic, someone to hold his hand until help arrives, deserves someone who would have responded the way that Ponce almost certainly would have. And, Mr. Arce added, he certainly deserves someone to come forward with information about the drivers, both still unidentified.
And if Mr. Myers has a point on broader societal failings, surely the lesson isn’t to adjust responsibility down, it is to adjust compassion up, as the elderly man lying on the street did.
So if Mr. Arce takes some solace from calls of support and the cards from 100 children at a local elementary school, it’s hard to get past the image of his father alone on the street.
“It makes me angry and it leaves me hurt,” Mr. Arce said. “To think of him there and no one to grab his hand, to offer comfort. He was always there helping everyone in their time of need and in his time, no one was there for him.”