Who is the Highest Authority?

Uncle Reggie stories URSN31: Who is the Highest Authority?
Reggie 叔叔的故事 URSN31:谁是最高权威?
(Sonic 翻译)

Photo one: Interstate 71 with its narrow left-hand pavement, even today. Careful: don’t stop in the left, and unless the car is on fire, please don’t get out of the car: the fast lane is too close.
图一: 时至今日,71 号州际公路左侧狭长地带仍在那里。注意:除非着火,别在左边停车,更别下车,离快车道太近。

Zen and Li were going to celebrate. Zen had just passed an important graduate school test. They had only arrived in the country for six months, and Li was joyfully pregnant with their first child. Zen had passed his Ohio driver’s license test, and they were able to drive off excitedly in their recently purchased car. As they sped along Interstate 71 in Cincinnati, they noticed something wrong with the car, and not being that used to American expressways, Zen moved the car to the narrow pavement next to the fast lane on the left.

小郑刚刚通过了研究生院的一个重要考试,小郑和小丽准备好好庆贺一番。他们刚到这里 6 个月,小丽已怀上了他们的第一个孩子,是一个满心欢喜的准妈妈。小郑通过了俄亥俄州的驾照考试,他们可以开开心心驾驶新买的车到处走走。他们驰骋在辛辛那提境内的 71 号州际公路时,他们感觉到车出了点问题,由于他们不太熟悉美国高速公路的规则,小郑把车停到紧邻左边快车道的狭长地带上。

Zen stepped out to see what was going on with the car, but he did not return. Li was in the car when she suddenly realized that something was happening outside the car. She saw a person lying on the ground far ahead of the car. She could not imagine that it was her husband. A car driving in the fast lane had hit a man and thrown him far ahead in that lane. The rest was a blur in her mind as police cars and ambulances arrived, and whisked the man on the ground and Li to the University Hospital.


Zen was pronounced dead on arrival, but I was called to see if I could help, in view of the language difficulties. I tried my best to console the totally distraught wife, but I wasn’t really helpful. Soon I was able to find sisters from the church to help out, especially for the difficult next few months, as Li tried to process all that had happened.


To our great surprise, and to add insult to injury, the Coroner ruled that the death was “due to suicide.” Any deaths that are unexpected are considered as “homicide,” and, by law, the Coroner has to rule on the cause of death in such situations. The family was all shocked because there was no indication at all that Zen had intended to commit suicide.


So I went around to gather information and testimonials from those who knew the couple, to see if there was indeed any reason that this could have been a suicide. I confirmed that, indeed, there was none, and every one attested to the fact that they were a happy couple, he was happy and excited about passing the exam, and their going on this celebratory trip was quite reasonable. I collated 19 pages of testimonials from various people who knew him well and I went to see the Coroner, as the family representative, thinking that logic was on my side, in my attempt to alter his conclusion.

我四处从熟悉他们夫妻的人那里收集证据,去看是否真的有自杀的因素。但我确定真的没有。每一个熟悉他们的人都证实他们是快乐的小两口,小郑通过了考试,他意气风发,他们踏上庆贺之旅是顺理成章的。我从不同的熟悉他的人那里整理出 19 页证据,作为他家的代表我去见验尸官,我认为我的证据非常具有逻辑性,逻辑在我这里,我要改变他的裁决。

Photo two: The Coroner has unique power, and even the
Courts cannot over-rule him.
图二: 验尸官拥有独特的权利,连法院也不能驳回他

To my great surprise, the Coroner rejected all these arguments. He said that it did not make sense for someone to be walking on the fast lane. The deceased man should have known very well that that was a dangerous lane. The driver of the car that hit him had said that he had “thrown himself” onto the driver’s car. And to the Coroner it was an open and shut case of suicide.


I tried to explain that this was a new couple that had only arrived in the country a few months ago, that they were not used to US expressways, and that Asian traffic ways were not the same as in the US. For example, if a person was walking on any road in Asia, the cars were usually not speeding at 60 plus miles per hour, so cars would spot him and usually slow down to try to avoid him, often driving around him. The traffic dynamic, even today in Asia, is much more fluid, and there is a pedestrian-driver interactive dynamic that is not black and white. Zen could well have thought that, American drivers are generally quite courteous, and it didn’t seem dangerous to be standing or walking on the car lane. However, in the American way of thinking, the US driver assumes right of way in his own traffic lane, assumes others usually follow the traffic law, and assumes no one indeed should be walking on the expressway. Also, it seemed likely that
Zen was disorientated when the car broke down unexpectedly, and wasn’t thinking clearly about the implications of getting out of the car on a speeding highway.

我试图解释说这是几个月前才来美国的小两口,亚洲的交通状况和美国不一样,他们不习惯美国的高速路。举例吧,如果一个人在亚洲任何一条公路上行走,公路上的车速一般不会超过 60 英里以上,司机可以看到他并减速避让,经常绕着他通过。甚至今天亚洲的交通状况也是杂乱无章的,人车混行随处可见、法无禁止。小郑或许认为:美国司机总是谦逊有礼的,在行车道上逗留应该是不危险的。但是他哪里知道美式思维是这样的:美国司机认为他拥有他所在行车道的路权,他人必须遵守交通法规,没有人会在高速路上行走。车意外抛锚让小郑不知所措,他没有意识到在高速公路上下车的风险。

All of this was not at all convincing to the Coroner, even as I tried to explain to him that if he himself was trying to cross a street in Asia or Italy, he might be more likely than locals to be run down by a car, because he did not have the same instincts as a local person, and could not instinctively guess how the traffic flowed. Even when I cross the street in Asia I definitely walk with the local crowd since I have little understanding of which direction exactly the traffic could be coming from! The Coroner’s face was unchanged.


It was all very frustrating, so I called up the former Coroner for Cincinnati, whom I knew, and who had now moved to New York as the Coroner for New York. He gave me some great advice and directed me to an article from the highly esteemed New England Journal of Medicine, which showed what happened when a person was hit by a fast car. The impact of the hit was usually just below
the knee, which would result in catapulting the entire body up in the air. The body would often land on the bonnet or windshield of the car, which would make it look like he was jumping onto the car. So in the confusion of the moment, the driver of the car would naturally assume and imagine that the man had run into or jumped onto the car. With this information in mind I tried to convince the Coroner again, but it was to no avail.


I also found out during this investigation that, to my great surprise, there was actually no legal way to reverse a Coroner’s decision. You could not even take him to court. According to English law, on which this law was based, the coroner is the final authority. This has been based on laws that have existed for hundreds of years in England. There is no higher authority in medical homicide cases when he signs off. I had always assumed that America is a land of laws, and the Courts in the USA were the highest authority for every problem, but I guess not.

Photo three: Each country has its own traffic culture: you
could easily get into an accident if your instincts are
different: westerners beware.


Amazingly, for this story, a few years later the Coroner died. A new Coroner was appointed, and within weeks I visited him with all the documents of the situation. Surprisingly, he was willing to sit down patiently and hear out the case. After that he said, “Let me think about it for a week.” One week later, to our great appreciation, he wrote and said that he totally agreed with our logic, and he changed the Coroner’s verdict from death by suicide, to death by accident. Even though the Coroner is the highest human authority for death certificates, a new human Coroner could over-rule that decision! Actually, if you think about it more carefully, there is also the Final Coroner, who cannot be over-ruled.


A death has occurred, persistence has paid off, justice has come, and Li has moved on to a new life, and her son is now doing well in college. The family now trusts in the Supreme Judge’s infallible laws, better than the human kind.


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