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Oh, Orwellian Omnipresence-

Updated: Mar 25

Travails in surveillance and legalese- Brian Keeler


As the saying goes, "We'd all be rich if it weren't for insurance and taxes."   I incurred property damage to the historic property I own in my hometown recently.  The property is an 1860 house built by my ancestor, John Gregory Keeler.  It is an Italianate house one block from downtown that has been on one side of the family or the other all this time.  My studio is in the adjacent building, which was perhaps the carriage house.





Above- A painting by the author of the Keeler Family house in Wyalusing, PA. This is the scene of the trucking accident discussed in this article. The old stone "Carriage Stoop" -the large flat stone that was ripped out and dragged down the street by the errant truck, can be seen here. This is also a self-portrait of the artist taking out the garbage while standing on the stoop.


Back in early January a huge 18 wheeler semitruck came down the adjacent alley, School Lane, which is barely wide enough for one car. The driver proceeded to attempt turning the corner and in the process drove across the property destroying the lawn, an ancient carriage stone stoop, an antique wrought iron fence, the sidewalk, walls and much more. It tore out the wheels of the truck and disabled it in the process.  What was the driver thinking?  Clearly he should have attempted to back out after viewing the intersection. One can easily wonder where this trucker got his driver's license, Sears and Roebuck maybe?   And we might assume that this could be chalked up to incorrectly following the directions of a GPS.  I've heard of many of these types of misdirections, especially on the narrow roads of Ireland and England as they wend past medieval buildings.  The GPS devices determine the shortest routes as the crow flies, (sometimes) without regard to actual drivability.  Once while driving in Italy, using a GPS, it tried to direct us up to what looked to be a goat path.  On the other hand they do serve a purpose and we've become virtually dependent on these gizmos.  Rember the days when we actually had to use maps?


The accident was investigated by the PA state police and an official report and citation written up.  The driver more or less left the scene of the crime and eventually stopped on US Route 6.  Many of my neighbors heard or saw the immediate aftermath.  Several took photos and one even had part of the incident recorded on their front door monitoring video.  Sounds like irrefutable evidence and witnesses to me. It is not exactly rocket science to put the dots together- a disabled truck, huge crash and then to look over see the damaged property. The trucking company disagreed.


Well, the actual travail aspect began when I contacted the Oklahoma-based trucking company. They said they would like to handle the accident in-house, presumably to save money, by not having their insurance rates go up. The first question asked by them was, do I have any video records from surveillance cameras?  I later learned that this was an effort to deny the accident. 


I  proceeded to have a contractor provide an estimate.  The trucking company's claims adjuster replied by saying that they would pay for only the repair of the stop sign, which was also run over!  A lawyer friend that I consulted, said they are basically giving you the finger. He also clarified a legal concept - which is; equity is about justice, whereas law and order in about compensation. The latter applies to this case.


My question in all this is; how in our system of legal transactions and crime does the perpetrator of a violation, a tresspass and destruction of property, get to be the judge, jury and executioner? It would be similar to having a fellow break into your house, kill your wife and then he'd get to decide his guilt or innocence.   The trucking company's insurance company shirked their duty as well, by saying; since there were no witnesses- the crime did not happen. Whew! Isn't there something called no fault insurance- where the perpetrators of damage pay up- instead of walking away scott free? This action seems to be underminning the rule of law and accepted conventions of our driving.


I found out from the local district magistrate in Wysox that a civil suit could be initiated but as the  trucking company was out of state, there was no way to assure that the summons could be delivered, even if sent by certified mail.  I would then be out the $200 plus fee for filing. Whew again.


The upshot was that in order to appease the trucking company, I had to jump through hoops and supply witnesses.  And to the credit of about a half dozen of my neighbors, they all willingly came forward to offer the photos, videos and observations.  One neighbor was flabbergasted that the incident could be denied. He said that it looked like a Sherman tank drove through your yard.  The trucking company also attempted to say that the damage was caused prior to the truck accident.  The entire approach smacks of sleazy and disreputable tactics to worm out of responsibility. So instead of Orwellian overreach, mentioned in the title of this essay, in this case it comes down the the human element. Basic neighborliness is the appreciated take away here, and the concern of good people to come to assistance and do the right thing.


Above- Another painting of Front Street in Wyalusing by the author. This winter view shows the area of the small street where the truck was disabled, after running through the author's yard. The author's grandparents lived in the second house shown here.


Finally, an independent adjuster was eventually assigned to the project.  He was also completely amazed as well, that the incident could be denied. As an aside, he happens to have been the same investigator for a runaway truck incident here in Ithaca that became notorious.  I am referring to the truck that plowed into Simeon's Restaurant on the Commons several years ago. That accident in June of 2104 did a huge amount of damage to two historic Victorian-era buildings and with the loss of life of the bartender and it caused 7 other people to be hospitalized. As another coincidence, the gallery that I was showing in at the Time, The Susan Titus Gallery had the same truck puncture a brick wall in the gallery while Matt Peterson was there. And another whew! The driver was from Russia without a valid drivers license and the out of state truck lost its breaks. The truck carring a load of new cars was reportedly going close to 50 mph when the accident occurred. I recall it was a long legal quagmire to get restitution as the insurance was woefully inadequate to cover the loss of life, property and loss of business. This is another example of huge trucks in urban areas and small towns where they are not suited to be.

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Above- The truck accident in Ithaca in 2014. The truck was carrying a load of new cars as you can see here. The cab of the truck went completely through the building and into the next, which was the Susan Titus Gallery at the time.


I am recalling something my father once said during a time when trucking companies were lobying governments to allow for joined or coupled trucks with two trailers to be on smaller roads. He said that trains belong on railroad tracks not on our roads. Well said.


Speaking of big trucks on small roads- as this truck that damaged my property was licensed in Oklahoma, I assumed it was a fracking-related transport, as many in that industry bare tags from those western states.  And as we know from many reports, the accidents from gas industry transportation has increased the accident rates in and on the back roads and main streets of Pennsylvania. The additional traffic has been a huge increase with the streets of towns and country roads often times clogged with water trucks and other industry transport vehicles.

 

In this day of technological leaps and bounds into surveillance and having everything monittered, here is a final example of Orwellian-like observations.  The NPR program, The World, recently had a report of how new cars record just about everything.  And worse, they share it with insurance companies, who in turn can jack up our rates- rather arbitrarily.  And all this is done without our consent or knowledge.


So what would George Orwell think of this? It seems to be way beyond the ubiquitous Big Brother surveillance he warned of in his dystopian novel of 1948, titled inversely,1984. With cell phone monitoring and tracking, AI and all the rest it also seems to harken back to another book, this one the 1970's best seller by Alvin Toffler, Future Shock. In this case that I am commenting on- we the common citizens, get to use servillance in reverse to fend off the unscrupulous. In short, the Big Brother thing goes both ways.

 

Well, my incident and travails pale by comparison to some trasgressions and in a way it is the opposite side of the personal privacy and protection issue.   In my case, it was documentation and personal observations that came to my aid rather than to justify the misdeeds of a corporate fat cat.




 Above- a photo of the accident scene on School Lane in Wyaluing. The antique wrought iron fence was put in by the author's mother in the 1960's. The stop sign (as seen here) was replaced and some of the debris cleaned up the Wyalusing Borough work crew.

 

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