Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mansfield Tragedy Ongoing...

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Saturday, August 2, 2008.

There are stories with happy endings, stories with sad endings, and stories that never truly end. The tragic tale of Rosie Shatz and Aaron Fine is unfortunately one of the latter.

On December 2, 2006 Rosie Shatz was a carefree 10-year-old girl riding her bike near her home. Aaron Fine was an off-duty Mansfield police officer driving a truck belonging to his landscaping business. They were both living lives of hope and promise.

But when the police officer’s truck collided with the little girl’s bike, both their lives ended – one literally, and one figuratively.

Rosie died that awful day, leaving her grieving family seeking answers they will likely never get.

Fine would be acquitted of motor vehicle homicide, but convicted of operating negligently and without the proper license. He was sentenced to two years in the House of Correction, but will serve only two months.

The emotional damage to himself, his wife and children, his parents and his friends has no doubt forever changed the officer and his family. Their answers are also difficult to find.

If Fine was a carpenter by trade, his future after prison would be quite a bit more certain. He would be free to go back to his vocation and perhaps find himself again in the work he trained for much of his life.

But he is a police officer, and by all accounts a fine one. A former leader of the local police union, his job performance has been hailed by many. It is a profession he loves.

“Aaron’s worked hard. He wants to be a police officer. That means more to him than anything else he would do”, said his father recently.

But he may not be able to return to his job.

That will be up to the Police Chief and officials in Mansfield, as they struggle to balance fairness to their employee with the best interests of the citizens and the department.

What is the right decision here? That is a tough call, and no one envies those who must make it. There is much to consider.

Aaron Fine made a mistake – of that there is no doubt. He did not set out that awful morning to kill a little girl. There was no evil intent here. It was a stupid decision with tragic results.

Who among us has never done something stupid that could have possibly endangered lives? But most of us got away with it. There but for the grace of God go I, the saying goes.

But Aaron Fine did not get away with it. He hit Rosie Shatz and she died. He cannot escape that awful fact, nor avoid the guilt and responsibility that will follow him the rest of his life.

Fine should serve his brief sentence, go back to his family, and do his best to lead a productive and happy life. He should not lose everything for this one horrible error.

But he should lose his job on the Mansfield police force.

Fair or not, police officers are held to a higher standard. They are the very symbol of law enforcement. They do not have to be perfect, but they simply cannot callously break the laws they are sworn to enforce.

Fine had a responsibility to know the law and follow it. He failed, and a little girl died. If he were to return, the credibility and integrity of the police department would be severely damaged.

Maybe Aaron Fine can be a police officer somewhere else. Maybe he can be happy in another profession. But if he returns to his job in Mansfield, he will forever be “that cop that killed the little girl”. Both he and the town need better than that.

Fine’s father told the Sun Chronicle “He cries about Rosie Shatz. He cries about the world. He is being brutalized, and he won’t let go”.

Aaron Fine needs to let go – of his pain, of his anguish, and unfortunately of his job. He made a big mistake. He must now move on and live his life.

Which is far more than little Rosie Shatz can do.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime town official. His column appears here every Saturday, and he can be reached at