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Matt Von Pinnon, Published March 24 2012

Von Pinnon: Girl in photo represents DUI’s innocent victims

On Friday afternoon, reporter Wendy Reuer and photographer Carrie Snyder ran out to a three-vehicle accident that was snarling traffic on the westbound lanes of Interstate 94 in Fargo.

The female driver, who North Dakota Highway Patrol officers said caused the accident, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

A child passenger in her car fell into the care of officers until family members could pick her up.

Snyder captured several photos of the scene, including some of the woman being arrested and a patrol officer escorting the little girl to his vehicle.

For whatever reason, the photo of the little girl, whose face is not shown and whose identity is unknown, really struck some of us in the office.

It’s such a sad situation for a child to endure. She’s riding with somebody who shouldn’t be driving. She’s then involved in an accident on an interstate that was probably pretty scary. Then the person she’s riding with is arrested. And then she’s paraded back to a patrol car past a long line of vehicles that have been stuck waiting for the accident scene to clear.

The patrol officer’s body language toward the girl indicates his concern for her. If you look really closely, the girl is holding a blanket and stuffed animal, perhaps her own or maybe given to her by the officer.

We had a good back-and-forth in the newsroom about whether to run the photo of the little girl along with the one of the driver being arrested. After all, the girl is an innocent victim in the case and there are many good arguments for taking extra precautions when it comes to handling minors in the news.

In the end, however, we decided to run it Saturday. The child was not identifiable, and the photo of her provided a more complete picture of what happened.

So often we see and hear about those who are caught or arrested for DUI. If they are lucky, the police get to them before they hurt or kill someone.

But there are many victims of such crimes who largely go unseen. In some ways, the little girl photographed Friday out on the interstate represents them.

It’s a sobering reminder that we share the road with many people who don’t get to make choices about their safety like most of us.

Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.

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