Guest Opinion: Tragic death brings home frailty of life

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By Theresa Keegan 

I didn’t know Dr. Michael John Mammone. But I do know the warmth of the winter sun on your back while biking in Southern California. I know the cerulean blue of the sky and the blissful feeling that you may be the luckiest person alive to be living in such a beautiful place. 

For visitors, these slices of life are captured on camera and bragged about as they return to their snowy, wind-swept climates of home. For residents, they are grasped when we slow down enough to look around, to appreciate what is before us; Nature’s abundant glory, ours for the taking. 

How lucky are we? 

Until we aren’t. 

For Dr. Mammone, that happened Feb. 1 at the intersection of Crown Valley Road and Pacific Coast Highway. A white Lexus barreled upon him, crashing his bike into traffic and flinging his defenseless body into the pavement. And then the crazed motorist really snapped, exiting his car and mercilessly attacking his victim with a knife. The stabbing ensured a certain death. 

Initially, hearing of a midweek bike accident, I lamented yet another two-wheel versus four-wheel incident. I know who the odds are against.  

Upon hearing of the horror of the stabbing, all I could hope for was that this lunatic somehow had a grudge – a reason to want this one person removed from the face of the earth. And then, when authorities said the suspect didn’t even know Dr. Mammone, I was shocked. 

What offenses, what slights and wrongs could create so much rage in one person? 

What deck of life’s awful cards were dealt so resoundingly to this man? 

What mental torments had he endured that, on this sunny day, he opted to end a stranger’s life?

I didn’t know Dr. Mammone. But as an asthmatic, I’ve encountered many emergency room doctors patiently wait as their actions opened my constricted airwaves. I’ve watched ER docs staple together my daughter’s young scalp and patiently explain options after an 89-year-old uncle’s heart stopped pumping. Their far-reaching skills extend beyond medical textbooks.

These professionals deal with people during some of our ugliest moments – day in, day out, early in the mornings, late at night. They evaluate, they heal, and then move on to the next case, knowing all the while that not all outcomes will be favorable no matter what they do. 

These doctors (and nurses) show up to do God’s work. The fact Dr. Mammone, age 58, will never again perform his life’s calling is a tragedy to all. 

AND NOW WE MOURN 

Dr. Mammone’s memorial at the corner of PCH and Crown Valley. Photo/Clara Beard

An ever-expanding pile of flowers now sits upon the corner of Crown Valley Parkway and PCH. The frame of a white ghost bike is shrouded amid orange Gerbera daisies, yellow daffodils, red roses. Purple and white stock flowers are tucked in the wheel spokes. 

This is a painful reminder of the fragility of life. That sentiment is something emergency room workers accept every time they report for a shift – but probably not what they consider when hopping on a bike to enjoy a winter afternoon ride.

This memorial is also a testimony to the reality that our lives are ragged. That a person was so in need of connection he discovered it by slashing a knife into another human’s body. 

We are all frail, living in this post-covid, politically divided, angry, rushed and busy society. There are ever-larger, more frequent gaping holes that are swallowing people and sanity. 

A dance studio in Monterey Park. A mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay. A church on El Toro Road. The corner of Crown Valley Road and PCH. 

The deaths, the anger and the voids left behind, are tragically haunting. 

I didn’t know Dr. Mammone. Yet I still mourn, for so many reasons. 

Theresa Keegan is a board member of Third Street Writers, an avid bicyclist and is vividly aware that amid the paradise of Southern California, many people struggle. 

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  1. As an avid local road cyclist for the last 6 years, I’ve had my share of run-ins and close calls with cars (not in Laguna Beach specifically but in Orange and San Diego counties). I’ve T-boned several cars that pulled out on me, and been heckled and called profane names by various drivers angry because I was merely trying to hold my own on a 2 foot margin of highway and they were in a hurry to pass, offended by my existence as if I were a fly buzzing through the air. Often the issue preceding these types of encounters is an encroachment by the driver upon the cyclist. Words are exchanged. The result can be a road rage response by the driver where they react with extreme violence towards the cyclist. It may have to do with their attitudes towards cyclists in general, cyclists in the past, or nothing to do with cyclists at all and be about something else, maybe some deep trauma or mental instability. Regardless, the cyclist becomes the object of an intense rage. As a cyclist, this tragedy doesn’t surprise me, but it saddens me deeply. RIP Dr Mammone.

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