Anatomy of a Tragic Road Rage Incident
Decker, MA, LP
- Angry and rageful drivers are continually
even though they may feel and look "out-of-control" to themselves
and other people around them.
- The escalation to increased anger and
destructive behavior can be rekindled by seeing the other car and reacting to other drivers'
actions, or it can be allowed to decrease by actively making choices
to avoid eye contact, thoughts or verbal statements that inflame
the situation, or behaviors designed to punish or intimidate the
- The intensity of road rage is determined
by controlling and entitled attitudes and the rationalizations and justifications that
are used to continue to engage. The more "rounds" the antagonists
go with each other, the more reasons they will find for continuing
and escalating the altercation even further.
- Truly understanding road rage requires
the willingness and ability to analyze a road rage incident and
see its natural steps of development or escalation. To help you recognize these steps,
we will analyze a road rage battle that involved three angry and
aggressive drivers in which provocation led to provocation, ending
ultimately in tragedy for several of the participants.
- The sequence of events below are reconstructed
from a broadcast of a CBS news program and court records related
to this case. It
involves the case of a 54-year-old retired auto worker and church
deacon from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, who was the defendant in a
ciminal trial for first degree murder with extreme cruelty and atrocity.
The deacon fits a number of the criteria related to the "road ranger"
discussed in another article about types of road ragers.
AN ACTUAL SEQUENCE OF ROAD RAGE STEPS AND CHOICES:
STEP 1: A woman on Interstate 95 in Rhode Island
came up fast on another car driven by an emergency medical technician
and a friend of his who were returning from work. The woman flashed
the two men with her high beams to indicate to them that she wanted them
to move over so she could pass.
CHOICE POINT 1: A female driver who was in a hurry and impatient about being “held
back” in traffic decided to tailgate and flash her bright lights
at the two men ahead of her to get them to move over from the far left
lane and let her go by. Depending on the mood of the other driver,
this can easily be perceived as an affront that can begin a road rage
STEP 2: The two men moved over to the middle lane to
let her pass but then got back into the passing lane, put their brights
lights on, and followed her.
CHOICE POINT 2:
The male driver became angry that the woman used her bright
lights to signal that she was coming up from behind and wanted to pass
them. He responded by deciding to move back into the passing
lane to “punish” her for this action by turning on their
bright lights and following her. This type of “punishing” behavior
is never helpful when driving: it will not be effective in altering
the other driver’s behavior and instead only escalates the situation.
STEP 3: A 54-year-old church deacon and retired auto
worker was driving on this same interstate with his wife, after enjoying
an afternoon of attending a dance class and an evening meal together
at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant. The deacon did not like the fact
that the two men were acting this way with the female driver and he moved
over two lanes from where he was driving in the right lane. He then turned
on his bright lights and began to closely follow them.
CHOICE POINT 3:
The deacon became indignant about the two men having the “audacity” to
flash their bright lights back at the female driver who had flashed
them with hers and then proceed to follow her closely. So he
decided to “punish” them by moving behind them with his
bright lights on. It was later reported that he was “disgusted” by
the other driver’s behavior because he didn’t like people “bullying” other
people. He apparently told his wife that he was going to “teach
the other driver a lesson.” His decision to intervene “on
the woman’s behalf” set the stage for the eventual outcome.
STEP 4: The deacon continued to tailgate the two men
at high speed with his bright lights on.
CHOICE POINT 4:
The deacon made the choice to continue to follow the two men
in order to “punish” them further for their transgression
rather than slowing down or pulling off the freeway and thereby disengaging
from the power struggle that was occurring .
STEP 5: The two men, feeling confused and irritated
themselves that they were being followed so closely by the deacon, moved
over to the middle lane. The deacon then moved over to the middle
lane, continuing to tailgate them at high speed, with his bright lights
on, for over eight miles.
CHOICE POINT 5:
The two men made a positive choice to move out of the way of
the driver behind them (unless their plan was to then tailgate him
to punish him for what he had done to them). However, the deacon
made the choice to move over behind the two men and continue to follow
them at high speed. He told his wife, “You never let
an enemy get behind you,” making a choice to view
the two men as “enemies” whom he needed to vanquish in
this rapidly escalating driving duel.
STEP 6: Eventually, the emergency medical
technician, exasperated by being followed, said to his companion, “I’m
going to pull over and ask this guy what his problem is,“ and
moved to the right shoulder of the highway, stopping his car. The
deacon then immediately pulled over on the right shoulder behind the
CHOICE POINT 6: The second driver made
the choice to pull over to the side of the road, which could have been
a positive move to de-escalate the situation if the deacon had driven
on and the EMT did not continue with a chase of his own. However,
the EMT expected the deacon to stop and planned to confront this man
who was following him, hoping to elicit an “explanation” of
why the deacon was doing what he was doing. Pulling over the
side of the road “to
talk” during a road rage incident is always a poor decision. Sadly,
in this instance, the situation was only further escalated as the deacon
also stopped alongside the road, again refusing to allow the “enemy” to
get behind him, which contributed to the fatal outcome.
STEP 7: The two men exited their vehicles
and started to walk toward the deacon’ s car, with the driver holding
a large flashlight as he approached the deacon and his wife. The
deacon also got out of his car after telling his wife, “We’ve
got big trouble coming down here,” went immediately
to his trunk and opened it, retrieving a crossbow from the trunk that
he owned and carried because he was an “avid archery buff.”
CHOICE POINT 7:
The two men made the decision to leave their vehicles (always
a poor decision) and walk toward the deacon’s car, with the EMT
holding a flashlight, which the deacon could have easily perceived
to be a “weapon.” The deacon, feeling threatened
by the two “bigger and younger men,” (as he reported later)
responded by choosing to seek out a weapon of his own, the crossbow
he stored in the trunk of his car which he used for target shooting
and for “protection” in his car. Carrying a baseball
bat, a wrench, a knife, a gun, a crossbow, or any other “weapon” for “protection” is
another poor decision that often contributes to road rage incidents. The
person who carries the “weapon” is “primed” to
engage with someone whom he or she perceives to be threatening or disrespectful.
STEP 8: The deacon warned the two men to “Hold
it right there” and told them “You’d
better go back to your car.” The other driver,
according to the deacon, screamed, “What’s your problem,
you f------ asshole?” (although the EMT’s friend
stated that the EMT never uttered those words to the deacon).
CHOICE POINT 8: The deacon made the
decision to escalate the situation with his words at this point by
demanding that the men follow his instructions. The
EMT may or may not have escalated the situation further by cursing
at the deacon but, in any case, the two men in the second vehicle made
the decision to continue to walk toward the deacon’s car.
STEP 9: The deacon took aim with the crossbow
and shot the driver of the other car in the chest with an arrow that
had an expanding broadhead point, where the razor-sharp blades “fly
open” as they
hit the intended “target” (the arrows are designed to cause as
much damage and bleeding as possible to the “prey”). The
EMT told his friend, “He shot me,” and fell
to the ground.
CHOICE POINT 9:
The deacon, who later stated that he had been feeling “threatened,” then
made the decision to aim the crossbow directly at one of the oncoming
men and to pull the trigger, creating a potentially life-threatening
STEP 10: The deacon drove away from the scene
and was picked up by the police at a later time. The friend of
the second driver had memorized the deacon’s license plate number
and drove his friend to the hospital, where the second driver died from
CHOICE POINT 10: The two parties finally
make the decision to end this horrific incident as the deacon gets
back into his car after shooting the EMT and speeds away. The
EMT’s friend takes him to the car
after noting the deacon’s license plate number and drives his
friend to the hospital and contacts the police. Calling 911 during a
road rage incident is always a positive decision. Unfortunately,
in this situation, the police were notifed too late to effectively
intervene in the murder that occurred.
THE TRIAL AND EVENTUAL VERDICT
The deacon was found guilty of first degree murder “with extreme
cruelty and atrocity” and given a life sentence in prison with
no possibility of parole, which he is currently serving at the Cedar
Junction Massachusetts State Prison. He continued to insist that
he was only defending himself against “two bigger and younger men.” He
argued that he did nothing wrong and stated, “I will not apologize
for defending my wife and defending my own life.” After
the verdict, the wife whom he had vowed to protect in this road rage
incident filed for divorce. The deacon had no prior history of problems
with the law.
© 1995 David J. Decker, MA, LP
Phone: 612-725-8402 or 651-646-4325 - www.ANGEResources.com