Because of her unique role in the Valhalla rail disaster (specifically, the fact that she was solely responsible for causing it), Ellen Brody is getting much more attention than her victims. Lohud.com even refers to “six victims,” although I suppose that is technically accurate since Brody herself was a victim of her own inconceivable errors in judgment.
I understand that her friends and family want to remember the good things about her, and I would never deny them that right. But for them to say that she would not have taken any risks is to demonstrate the same commitment to objective truth as a ghetto mother screaming that her son is innocent in the face of incontrovertible DNA evidence to the contrary. To say such a thing detaches the event from its moral context and reduces it to an accident, a mere “happening,” something sad but unforeseeable. The fact of the matter is that had she survived the collision, she would almost certainly be charged with multiple counts of manslaughter and face numerous lawsuits for wrongful death. Legal culpability is society’s way of formally assigning moral culpability.
Everything I’ve read about Brody praises her for being a good wife, mother, and member of the community in general. A good “sport,” “fun,” etc. Those are all good qualities in a person, to be sure. But they’re not enough. The capacity to respond in emergencies and not lose one’s mind in the face of a potentially dangerous situation is at least as important as all of the foregoing combined. This aspect of personality is rarely tested, but when it is, the result gives a strong indication of that person’s character.
Ellen Brody’s positive attributes will be remembered by her friends and family, and that is enough. Unfortunately, her role in public life is that of a confused woman whose indescribably poor judgment got five other people killed. As a people, this is what we ought to focus on, because it keeps the event grounded in its moral context. If we must mourn the dead, let us mourn Robert Dirks, Walter Liedtke, Eric Vandercar, Joseph Nadol, and Aditya Tomar.