A week ago, there was a tragic traffic accident in Owensboro, Kentucky. There was a fatal collision on New Hartford Road just north of the bypass. That wreck claimed the life of 25-year-old Morgan Culyer-Foster. Within moments, photos of that wreck surfaced on social media- from media outlets and others who happened to pass by. As it almost always happens, those photos were posted long before immediate family members were notified of the situation.

A Familiar Feeling

That scenario is one all too familiar for Andrea and Mike Widmer. In fact, their personal experience led Andrea to immediately respond to last Friday night's photos. She shared this on Facebook the morning after the accident.

Last night there was a horrible accident in town.
Thank you to all those pushing back to the news outlets to take down accident photos. The incident was tragic enough in itself it didn't need illustrations.
A decade ago, the Widmer family found themselves living this exact scenario. Their son Taylor was involved in a fatal accident and they learned of it not from authorities, but on social media.
Andrea says, "I saw a picture on Facebook of a car upside down in the cornfield. The tagline said- The coroner has been called to the scene of a one-car accident." Andrea immediately recognized the car. She tried called Taylor. He didn't answer. She had Mike call his friends in law enforcement. Andrea says, "After about an hour or so it was confirmed. But I already knew by the picture."

Andrea and Mike remain a unified voice for other families in similar situations. Andrea, like she did Friday night and Saturday morning, continues to encourage people to put pressure on media outlets and others to stop using photos of wreckage. She says, "Keep up the good fight and one day we will hopefully be heard."

Going 'Viral' Has Become a Virus

The sad truth is this. We have found ourselves in a social media culture where every day people consider themselves journalists. In attempt to get likes and shares, people will post virtually anything to their Facebook and Instagram accounts. They sometimes do so with frenzy- to be the first on the scene, the first to share. The desire to "go viral" has become a virus.

I experienced this a couple of years ago when there was a horrible accident near the intersection where I live. Obviously, as someone who works in media, I immediately ran to the scene to find out what happened and, honestly, to help if I could. While I was standing at the accident scene and talking official business with a responding officer, a stranger walked up and started taking photos- of what was left of bicycle the deceased was riding when a car hit him. I asked the man, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm taking photos for Facebook." I quickly and sternly assured him that he was not.

The day Andrea and Mike Widmer's son died, they weren't afforded the luxury of someone keeping Taylor's wrecked car off social media. Andrea says, "The coroner called the news station and told them to take the picture down and they did, but people had already screenshot it and used it to share the announcement." The photo of that accident had gone viral- locally- before Taylor's mom and dad had been notified. That is collateral damage piled on an already tragic situation.

Families Are Already Going Thru Enough

Andrea says that when something like this happens, families are traumatized enough. "When we see the photos, we visualize what happened, how they must have felt. We see it in our heads over and over and over." She adds, "I felt like my ability to 'romanticize' those final moments was taken away from me."

Andrea Widmer
Andrea Widmer

Over the weekend, the Widmers, because of the similar nature of Friday night's accident in Owensboro, were reminded of their own personal tragedy and how it unfolded- on social media- for their family. They and others stepped in to try and spare Morgan's family the same trauma.  Again, the story of what happened was bad enough. They didn't need the photograph. A picture like that just gets burned into your consciousness.

Andrea says of Taylor's accident, "I actually still have the photo on my phone. I don't ever look at it. But it is there."

The truth is simple. It shouldn't be.



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