We never know how long we have or when our time is up. Having faced the separate and totally unexpected deaths of both my sister and my mom over the past several years, it hits me differently now when I see the same thing happen to other people. It has left me with an acute awareness that there are certain things that are more important than others.

When I read the news of what had happened to Lorraine Hall, the woman who was hit and killed in a crosswalk in Rockland last week, my heart sank. There was a time when I couldn’t even begin to imagine what this would feel like, to have someone you love taken away so suddenly, but now I know it all too well.

I’ll never forget the first little vase of wild flowers that was left on my porch the morning that the news broke of my sister’s death and the fog of grief began to envelop me. It came with a card that said, among other things, “you don’t know me but I know the pain of losing someone unexpectedly who you love unconditionally.”

The woman who wrote me the card had lost her boyfriend in a motorcycle accident near my home and I knew that she knew what I was feeling. I remember it was the first moment where I felt I could come up for air deeply moved by just a moment of feeling like someone else understood the despair I felt and was living to tell about it.

Sadness and loss is a part of life and we all experience that sooner or later in one way or another. I have not yet experienced the slow goodbye and the type of grief that comes when you know the death of a loved one is coming and you have time to say goodbye. I don’t imagine that would be any better. Just different.

My sister’s death was one of those that people describe as tragic—partially because of her age, but I think mostly because of the circumstances. It was also a preventable death, the kind that leaves you running a million scenarios through your head about how things may have been different.

There is something different about death that comes about when you are hit by something much more powerful. My sister was swimming in Damariscotta Lake at dusk—waving a yellow flipper in the air and yelling—when she was hit by a motor boat whose operator didn’t see her until it was too late.

Wrong place, wrong time, and if she had been just a little faster or slower she would have avoided the deadly consequences. Maybe she shouldn’t have been out on the lake at all? Maybe there’s something more she could have done?

We talk a lot about all the things that pedestrians, cyclists and swimmers can do in order to make themselves more visible and avoid being run over, usually by something with an engine.

When someone is hit, we usually ask immediately whether the driver was impaired by drugs or alcohol. If drugs or alcohol were involved, then it is labeled a crime, and if not, then the trend seems to be that it was just an accident.

We assume that no one wants to run over someone else and that the driver of the more deadly vessel or vehicle will do everything they can think of to avoid it. And this is true, for the most part. So it should be as easy as just making sure that people swimming or on foot or in smaller boats or bikes can make themselves seen by things that are bigger and stronger.

I’ll never forget the difference in the way my sister’s case was treated by the District Attorney when the man who hit her was first indicted compared to the way things were described after the election which put a new DA in charge of things. It all revolved around the term reasonable standard of care. The same thing is true in vehicular accidents.

In all cases, operating with reasonable care requires more than just obeying speed limits and traffic signals, but also adjusting to changing conditions. In my sister’s case, this meant that the boater needed to adjust speed to the level that was consistent with the visibility. They concluded that the conditions warranted that a reasonable person would go much slower to prevent harm to his passengers and others out on the lake.

Even if they couldn’t prove that she was within 200 feet of the shore at the time she was hit (also known as the water safety zone where boats must go no faster than headway speed), the opinion of the DA at the time was that traveling any faster than headway speed with limited visibility was reckless. Just as the boater hit my sister, he could have hit a log, a loon, or another boater.

After the new DA took over and others got involved, the nature of everything changed. I’m sure part of this was the judge and the calculation from the DA that they may just not have a chance of winning. Some things are just accidents. That’s what the judge said, and I’m not surprised after hearing the sloppy and poorly prepared argument offered by the new attorney assigned to my sister’s case.

He seemed to believe fundamentally in the boater’s right to drive blind and my sister’s responsibility to make herself seen. The children in the boat reported later that they had seen my sister, but the person at the controls hadn’t. So she was visible, but not visible enough.

One of the things that the new District Attorney disclosed to me was that during her career as a defense attorney she had successfully defended a client who had hit a kayaker. The winning argument? Temporary blindness caused by glare from the sun.

I’ve since heard this time and time again in cases where a car hits a pedestrian, sometimes as a justification for not even giving the driver a citation. A child was hit in the crosswalk on Mechanic Street in the past couple years and the same explanation prevailed. Just an accident. Wrong place, wrong time.

Sun glare in some jurisdictions has come to be treated as an act of God. That’s not what the law  says. Yet, I am not aware of any law that excuses a driver from responsibility simply because the sun got in their eyes. Of course I recognize that we don’t know everything yet about the circumstances of Lorraine’s death, and that no one in a million years wants to cause the death of a person in this manner, but we must stop talking about sun glare as a defense in and of itself.

Sun glare is a predictable occurrence and we must be prepared to deal with it when it interferes with our ability to see what’s ahead. The very best response is to SLOW WAY DOWN. Speed limits and specific laws can never entirely replace personal responsibility.

Accidents involving pedestrian deaths increase exponentially as the rate of speed increases. When you are driving a vehicle capable of doing immense damage, you must be willing to slow down or pull over when you are unable to see.

Polarized sunglasses, a clean windshield, and route planning are all basic expectations for anyone operating a vehicle.

We cannot continuously place the burden on those wishing not to be hit. The burden to see what’s ahead and adjust course when you cannot see must be taken more seriously by drivers, law enforcement, and the courts.

Let’s all focus on teaching our kids and reminding ourselves to have a plan for when we cannot see, whether its sun, fog, rain, darkness, or a dirty windshield.

Alison McKellar is a Camden resident and Select Board Vice-Chair. Her views are her own and do not reflect those of the Select Board or the editorial position of The Camden Herald. We welcome letters and guest columns reflecting other viewpoints via editor@villagesoup.com.