Senseless deaths are parents’ nightmares

There’s an old saying among parents: Nothing good ever happens after midnight.

Last week, two very bad things happened in Lexington while most of us slept.

Two University of Kentucky students died in tragic accidents. By all accounts, they were the most promising of young people.

Brian Hardin, 27, died Wednesday after falling and hitting his head on a sidewalk. He was walking near the intersection of Woodland Avenue and Maxwell Street about 4:30 a.m. after a night out with friends at a nearby bar.

Hardin’s professor and mentor at UK described him as one of the best physiology research graduate students he had ever taught. Just this month, Hardin was published in physiology’s most prestigious journal — a remarkable achievement for a first-year grad student.

Three days before Hardin’s death and a few blocks west on Maxwell Street, Connie Blount, who was about to turn 19, was killed as she crossed Broadway with a friend. It was 2:15 a.m. and raining. The police report said that as the couple crossed the street, against the signal, she “stopped in the roadway for unknown reason” and was struck by a hit-and-run driver.

At a memorial service Monday night, more than 200 people packed UK’s Baptist Student Center. Friends spoke of Blount’s cheerful disposition, her winning personality and her infectious smile.

Wednesday evening, as the sun was beginning to set, I stopped by the makeshift memorial Blount’s friends created near the intersection where she died. A photograph of the smiling UK equestrian team member was pinned to a small street tree. Below it was a mound of fading flowers.

On one bouquet was a hand-written card: “We love you more than you could ever imagine. You were our best friend, and I know we will see you soon. Keep those horses ready for us. We love you.”

It was a vision from every parent’s nightmare, like the ringing telephone that wakes you in the middle of the night. In the seconds before you pick up the receiver, you pray it is not a police officer or an emergency room doctor with bad news.

Young adulthood is a heady time — newfound independence, boundless possibilities and a feeling of invincibility. But all too often, when youthful exuberance finds alcohol after midnight, even the best young people become victims of life’s random cruelty.

It’s too early to say what role alcohol played in last week’s deaths, but it appears to have been a factor — just as booze in the wee hours contributed to the deaths of seven other UK students since 2002. Two young women fell into a flooded storm drain. A young man ran in front of a truck; another in front of a train; a third in front of a car, whose driver also was drunk. Another fell off a cliff while camping with friends. Another fell through a third-floor dormitory window, along with the brother of another student.

Spurred by such tragedies, UK and other universities have emphasized alcohol education. That’s good. But education, like parenting, can do only so much in the struggle against human nature.

These tragedies have been on my mind a lot this week, and I know why. I’m the father of two daughters in their 20s. The younger one turned 21 last Monday, and, of course, she had planned a big night out with her friends.

I told her at least three times that day to be careful, be responsible. I’m sure she thought I was overdoing it, because she has always been responsible. But bad things happen to good kids. We saw that last week.

Parents find themselves in a strange place when their children are suddenly no longer children. We aren’t in charge anymore, and are no longer around every minute to help them and protect them. And it wouldn’t be healthy if we were.

All we can do is hope that we did a few things right in the past two decades. We can tell them to be careful, to be responsible. And we can remind them that nothing good ever happens after midnight.

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