Thursday, May 24, 2012

His life cut short at 101

He was 101 years old -- but not too old to inspire people of all ages.

It's a story that could have spread the word and maybe saved a life or two.

His friends say that Otto W. Jensen had the energy of a 20-year-old, the disposition Santa Claus and the kindness of a saint. When he was 99, his friends videotaped him sprinting across Olive Avenue to get from the senior center to his home and photography studio across the street.

It was in that exact spot that a 91-year-old woman's car hit him in the dimming dusk.

It's just a half block from where we live, so when the police helicopter was orbiting about us and the emergency vehicles were converging, I grabbed my video camera and, in true journalist spirit, scurried over and recorded the scene.

I didn't know anything about the victim until I called the Burbank Police watch commander later that night. He could only confirm that the pedestrian had died and that he was a 101-year-old man.

I can't remember the exact search terms I punched into Google, but the first page that returned was a Youtube video that a young friend of Otto's had shot. It was absolutely astounding because it showed Otto three years ago, when he was 98. The camera followed Otto as he sprinted across Olive Avenue. If you don't know Burbank, Olive is a pretty darned busy street.

"Run Otto! Run!" his friends cheered. It seemed to be a fun and spirited cheer -- but I could imagine that their concern for his safety was paramount (people had commented below the video that he refused to listen to his friends' warnings).

When Otto got past the traffic lanes and was coasting toward the curb, he said in his Danish accent, "I do this every day!"

The chilling part was that when he said those words, he was running precisely over the spot on the pavement that he ended up on Tuesday evening after the car had hit him.

This is the freelance journalist speaking now: This foreshadowing video had all of the elements of a sad story of irony -- a story that could have had impact on thousands of people or more. As tragic as it was, I know in my heart that someone, somewhere would realize that they've been putting their own life at risk by trying to cross busy streets where there is no marked or unmarked, legal crosswalk.

And had I been able to use the ironic elements of the situation to reach a very large audience, I'm sure that at least one person would change his or her driving habits and show more caution when pedestrians are out and about.

At 3 a.m., Wednesday morning, I returned to the spot where Otto's live tragically ended. I talked with some of Otto's friends. I asked them if they would say something on camera -- something that would allow me to share Otto's spirit with others.

They declined.

It wasn't long after that that the video on Youtube disappeared. And my hopes of using that powerful coincidence to send a safety message to millions of people vanished at the same time.
At the very least, I can share this with people I know. And maybe you'll think about your safety and the safety of others.

It's easy to lash out at reporters who ask friends and family member to talk about the person they loved and lost. It's a myth that journalist shove a microphone in people's faces and say, "How do you feel?"

The truth is that, for the majority of people who die tragically, a reporter's interview with loved ones will result in a well-deserved chance for the person who died to have his or her story told to a wide audience. In the end, nobody doesn't keep the news clippings or video from TV so that they can share it with their own grandchildren one day.


Vicki said...

Thanks Don. I wish we could see the video that was removed. Perhaps the city could consider a crosswalk for the seniors visiting the center.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this tragic story. However, he die doing what he enjoyed. May he have peace and may the city of Burbank dedicate that crosswalk in his honor!

Sevag T. said...

Tragic story Don. Though I also feel more crosswalks should be added, there is a balance that needs to be kept. Where do you put one? What about the flow of traffic? I'm also sure the city intentionally does not put crosswalks in certain areas because they feel it might increase the number of accidents. Lots to think about.

Great piece Don, but I am saddened by the loss of such a wonderful man (though I don't know him).