Brian Mittge Commentary: If the Unthinkable Happens, How Will You Go?


Last Monday morning around 7:30, a semi-truck driver was headed down a hill in southeast Tacoma. It was a normal drive down a wooded but busy street. As he neared the intersection and traffic light at the bottom of the hill, the driver discovered that his brakes in his big rig had failed.

He was barreling toward a stoplight with no way to stop.

What we know about the next few moments comes from a police report.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office tells us that the 45-year-old driver was able to steer his 18-wheeler away from other vehicles at the intersection of Waller Road and Pioneer Way East and into a nearby parking area for warehouses.

He tried to come to a safe stop, but there wasn’t room. The semi and trailer rolled. His cabin smashed into a warehouse, killing him.

“The driver’s quick actions prevented anyone else from being hurt,” KOMO News reports, citing the police officials, who said mechanical failure in the brakes caused the crash.

The incident earned a few paragraphs on news sites but little notice otherwise. There are crashes all the time. People are injured or die, and there is mourning, but life goes on for the rest of us.

What sticks with me about this story is that in his final seconds of life, as he discovers that he can’t stop, he keeps his wits about him and puts the safety of others first.

His last action was saving the lives of the other drivers in that busy intersection during morning rush hour.

It reminds me of a saying that I heard from Denny Waller, former publisher of this newspaper: “People will remember you for how you leave, whether it’s from a job, a relationship or from this life.”

Heroism is defined in many ways. One of them is an instinctive drive to risk one’s own life to protect those around you, especially strangers or the vulnerable.

I don’t know the name of the semi driver who died this week, but today I think of his brave, resourceful exit from this world. He lost his life but saved others. He was a hero.

I don’t know what regrets or heartbreaks he might have suffered or caused during his 45 years on this earth. I don’t know if he was a good man, a great man or one who struggled through disappointments and felt like a failure.

Still, those morning Tacoma commuters who are still alive because of his final moments can testify that when it really counted, he made his life matter.

May we all live so well.


Farewell to a Famed Artist

I was sad to hear recently that beloved Centralia artist Dixie Rogerson-Bill has died. Another highly esteemed Lewis County artist, sculptor Jim Stafford, offered a fitting homage to Dixie and her “whimsical” style in this week’s Letters to the Editor.

“What Dixie did was beautiful, original and very popular — just as she was as a person,” Stafford wrote.

Our family is pleased to own a Rogerson-Bill print of our own, and we’re blessed to be friends with the family of her grandson, Chris Rogerson.

While we’re sad to say goodbye to a Lewis County original, Dixie’s art and family legacy live on.


Neighbors Banding Together

I continue to follow with great interest and delight the formation of a group to support a small but mighty park in Chehalis. Last week, a handful of neighbors got together to form a steering committee for the Friends of Westside Park. Attendees ranged from a babe-in-arms to young parents in their 30s to senior citizens.

Meeting in a newly cleaned picnic structure under trees bearing gorgeous white cherry blossoms, the group discussed ways to spruce up the park and make it more enjoyable for families and kids. Their vision is practical but expansive. They are meeting again on April 20 at 6 p.m. at the park. All are welcome.

As an outsider looking in, I was delighted to see these neighbors collaborate on a broad vision for a shared treasure in their lives. It’s an example of the hands-on community spirit that replenishes our society. When folks put their heads together with vision and commitment, life is good indeed. 


Brian Mittge can be reached at