Was the crash at the Florida pride parade an attack or an accident?

(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

One of the first headlines I saw this morning was just about the last thing I wanted to see. “Driver crashes into crowd at Pride parade in Florida; 1 dead.” I’m sure most of you who saw it had immediate flashbacks to Charlottesville and the chaos that ensued following that attack. And that was the conclusion that was quickly drawn by several media outlets and some of the people in attendance at the event in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Wilton Manors. At the starting point of the Pride parade, a pickup truck was heard revving its engine before accelerating forward into the parade participants, striking two people, one of whom died.

In short order, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said that he believed the crash was “deliberate.” A spectator near the area where the incident took place told reporters, “It was definitely an intentional act right across the lanes of traffic.” And that was the story that the media seemed to be prepared to run with. If so, this was a disgusting act that needs to be fully investigated with the driver being held accountable. But was it deliberate? A bit more investigation by the Associated Press calls that into question. One of the complicating factors is the fact that this wasn’t some random vehicle that suddenly zoomed into the crowd. The driver of the truck and both of the victims were reportedly part of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus family. The truck’s driver was awaiting his turn to move down the street because he was part of the parade. (Associated Press)

The driver and the victims were a part of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus family, according to a statement reported by news outlets from the group’s president, Justin Knight.

“To my knowledge, it was an accident. This was not an attack on the LGBTQ community,” Knight said in the statement. “We anticipate more details to follow and ask for the community’s love and support.” …

Police said the driver was taken into custody, but it was unclear whether he had been charged.

This information doesn’t get us any closer to a definitive answer. Just because the driver was part of the Gay Men’s Chorus and was scheduled to participate in the parade doesn’t mean that there couldn’t have been some sort of beef between the people involved. Perhaps the driver simply became unhinged in a very public setting. The sound of a revving engine followed by the sudden acceleration of the vehicle could certainly be signs of a deliberate action.

But that’s not the story he’s telling. According to CBS News, the driver’s statement to the police said that his foot had become “stuck between the gas pedal and the brake,” causing him to lose control of the vehicle. That’s really not all that hard to believe. We’ve heard the same explanation in cases where other drivers – particularly senior citizens in some incidents – have suddenly smashed through the front of a convenience store. If so, then this was simply a tragic accident.

But it’s interesting how so many people were quick to blame rampant bias against gays and lesbians and ascribe the crash to malice, isn’t it? Not only the Mayor of Fort Lauderdale but also a witness who claimed to be less than twenty yards from the strike both were convinced it was deliberate. And yet, it seems as if it would be odd indeed for a member of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus to be harboring such hatred toward gay people that he would seek to kill one with his pickup truck.

Figuring out the motive and intent of drivers in these cases is sometimes challenging. There was another incident of a driver wiping out some people in Arizona this weekend when their car smashed into a bike race. We could find ourselves asking the same questions about that. According to the AP, Six people were critically injured and the driver reportedly crossed over three lanes of traffic before plowing into the racers. So was it intentional or did he simply lose control of the vehicle? This may have been deliberate because the driver fled from police until they wound up shooting him in front of a nearby hardware store. But even that doesn’t really prove anything. First of all, that wasn’t some sort of gay pride event or a BLM rally. It was just an annual community bike race. Did the driver really hate bicyclists or something? Or did he either lose control of the vehicle or fall asleep at the wheel? Perhaps he panicked after realizing what he had done and unwisely decided to flee.

Rushing to judgment isn’t going to get us anywhere in either of these cases. But one unfortunate result of the coverage of the crash at the Florida Pride parade is that far too many people aren’t going to read any further than the headline and the quote from the Mayor and come away claiming that this is yet another case of violence against the gay and lesbian community.