Las Vegas Sun

July 25, 2014

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Columnist Tom Gorman: Wondering after the death of a physician’s daughter what it will take to recognize the importance of wearing seat belts

Tom Gorman's column runs Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at [email protected] or at (702) 259-2310.

Last week, a trauma center physician buried his 11-year-old daughter at Paradise Memorial Gardens. She died in a car crash.

In accordance with Islamic tradition, the girl's body -- wrapped in a burial shroud -- was lifted from a casket and lowered by straps into the ground. Her father and other men surrounded the deep hole and reverently sprinkled dirt onto her body. Short prayers were recited in English and Arabic.

Using a skip loader, cemetery workers lowered a concrete shell over the girl's body. The grave then was filled with more dirt, and the sod was replaced and tamped down.

As the women mourners kept their distance, men hugged the stoic father and whispered condolences. Family and friends, including fellow doctors and the daughter's schoolmates, then quietly walked away.

The Clark County district attorney's office will now decide whether to charge the father, Dr. Salahuddin Ahmed, with vehicular manslaughter.

A Metro Police investigation concluded the father's actions led to his daughter's death and that he should be held criminally responsible.

According to Sgt. Tracy McDonald of Metro's traffic fatality detail, Dr. Ahmed failed to bring his Toyota SUV to a full stop at a stop sign, and drove into the path of an oncoming Infiniti SUV. In the collision, his car was slammed onto its side.

The driver of the other vehicle, a 17-year-old girl, was wearing a seat belt and was not physically injured, although she surely was emotionally stricken and is another victim in this tragedy.

But sitting together in the back seat, neither Ahmed's wife nor their two older children -- 11-year-old Hafsa and an 8-year-old -- were wearing their seat belts. Hafsa was ejected from the vehicle and killed. Remarkably, no one else was seriously injured, including a 2-year-old who was being held by the mother, Urooj. An empty car seat was beside her.

The tragedy raises two questions. One will be answered by attorneys. I can't imagine there is an answer to the other question.

Should the DA prosecute a man who already has suffered so much? The law doesn't shield fathers who are culpable in the death of their children, but the argument can be made that he will be haunted for the rest of his life, and that society should show him compassion.

The other question is, why is the message of seat belts lost on some people -- including a father and doctor in the business of mending bodies broken in car crashes?

There may have been extenuating circumstances that would explain why Ahmed's wife and their three children were not safely restrained. But if anyone would seem to fathom the importance of seat belts, it would be Dr. Ahmed, given his trauma center experience with car crash victims. In his work, he sees what happens to people who don't use seat belts -- and he has been called upon to share his knowledge with others.

In 2003, four public agencies sponsored a seminar to educate paramedics and other first-responders on what kinds of injuries they should expect to encounter at a vehicle collision scene.

The sponsors included the state Office of Traffic Safety, the Clark County coroner's office, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue and UMC's trauma center. Among the six trauma physicians teaching the class was Ahmed, according to UMC, because of his familiarity with traffic accident injuries.

It's hard to make this a feel-good column.

I assume that Ahmed will return to his work in the trauma center, caring for traffic accident victims who were not wearing seat belts. Each one, I suspect, will trigger a haunting memory of his own carelessness.

And people are careless. It would be good if the circumstances of Hafsa's death prompts greater use of seat belts. But, sadly, there is no reason to believe that will happen.

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