HOLMBERG: All mistakes aren’t created equal

Posted at 11:59 PM, Jul 11, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-12 06:45:53-04

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- Tuesday, during his first new interview, the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship blamed other crew for running it aground off the coast of Italy six months ago, killing 32 people, despite evidence he caused the disaster.

But when Francesco Schettino was asked about the youngest victim, a 5-year-old girl, he broke down.

How do you process something like that?

We all make mistakes, and beat ourselves up for them. But not all mistakes are created equal. Some of the worst disasters in history are frequently caused by everyday people, making everyday mistakes.

In downtown Richmond the day after Christmas in 1811, a young stagehand working at the Richmond Theatre pulled a lit chandelier into some props, setting off a fire that killed 72, including the governor.

In a similar incident 70 years ago, a 16-year-old bus boy dropped a hot light bulb onto a plastic palm frond and started a runaway fire inside the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston, killing 492.

Nine years ago, the tour manager for the band Great White set off this pyrotechnic display that spread to the acoustic foam above the stage at the Station nightclub in Rhode Island. One hundred people perished.

Maritime disasters also seem to hinge on everyday people making simple mistakes.

Twenty-five years ago, young assistant boatswain Mark Stanley fell asleep in his bunk, neglecting to close the bow doors on the English Channel ferry Herald of Free Enterprise. The big ferry capsized, killing 193 people.

How do you process something like that? I often think about one of the worst crashes I covered as a reporter.

In August of 1994 in I-95 in Hanover County, long haul trucker Dallas Leach was firing up a cigarette. He ran into the back of another tractor-trailer stopped in traffic. It wasn’t until they put the fire out that they realized a van was smashed between the two rigs. A family of five was wiped out.

Years after the crash, the trucker’s first in his career, I spoke with him about how he dealt with it.

Dallas Leach of Georgia told me it takes a lot of prayer. He says not everybody can carry that crushing load – one that eases over the years, but never goes away.

He told me he thinks about it every single day.

Yes, all of us make mistakes, mistakes that haunt us.  But compared to the disasters above?