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Daily Camera Story Accused of Celebrating Drunk Driving

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At this writing, the most e-mailed and commented-upon article on the Boulder Daily Camera website is "Trio Loved Speedy Cars" -- but the reasons for its growing infamy aren't necessarily positive. The January 20 piece, penned by reporter Heath Urie, doesn't stand out because of the unique events it chronicles. The story of Michael Flaherty, Lucas Snyder and Amber Kowalski, three friends in their early twenties who died early on January 18 after the car in which they were riding smashed into a light pole while traveling at more than 100 miles per hour, is a sadly familiar one. What shocked many readers, then, was the article's overall tone, including its oddly cheery headline and quotes that seem downright celebratory. Take this observation from Flaherty's sister, Lorie. "The thing that really makes me feel much better about this is they died doing what they loved to do -- they were drinking, they were going fast and they were together," she said. "It gives me comfort, it does, to know those three things."

Plenty of folks who've posted their thoughts about the story reacted angrily to this sentiment. "Unbelievable," wrote one. "Isn't it sweet that they loved drinking and driving. I wonder what sis would have said had they killed a carload of innocent people. I'm sure these young adults were loved, but their stupid decision isn't heartwarming. It shouldn't be romanticized. It was dangerous and selfish and thank God they were the only ones killed." Others were struck by the absurdity of the offering's spin, including a surfer who admitted, "For a minute, I thought I was reading The Onion."

Both of these reactions are justified. Urie correctly identified Lorie Flaherty's statements as the grabbiest of the bunch and placed them near the top of his article, as reporters are taught to do. Unfortunately, her words weren't balanced against negative remarks that might have put them in context. (The closest thing to criticism comes from Michael's dad, David Flaherty, who said, "It was a bad decision. If I heard they were going that fast, and they hadn't crashed, I would have chewed them out.") As a result, the first third of the piece, at least, comes across as a dewy-eyed salute to drunk driving at triple-digit speeds.

I've sent questions about the article to Camera editor Kevin Kaufman and will post his observations when he responds. Until then, it's clear that many Camera subscribers don't love "Trio Loved Speedy Cars." -- Michael Roberts

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