Two stories broke over the last two days about tragic deaths. The first story involved a dirt track racer who was struck and killed in upstate New York. The second involved a legendary comedian who took his own life. Both deaths were tragic but for entirely different reasons.
The first story broke early Sunday morning and related to a sprint car race (not a NASCAR event) on a dirt track at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. As has been reported in numerous media outlets, about halfway through the race, a car driven by veteran NASCAR driver Tony Stewart bumped another car which was being driven by 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. Ward's car hit a wall and spun out, and the race officials displayed the yellow caution flag, which is a signal to drivers to be careful and which carries certain other rules related to race positions.
The news outlets further reported that after the accident, Ward got out of his car and walked onto the track, while Stewart continued around the half-mile course. As Stewart's car approached on its next lap, Ward was reportedly "pointing and gesturing, apparently toward Stewart". One car swerved to avoid Ward, but he was struck by Stewart's car and was severely injured. Ward died a short time later, of "massive blunt trauma."
In the days following the race, speculation was rampant that Stewart had intentionally struck Ward, but it was simply just that - speculation. The The following day, Philip Povero, sheriff of the local county told reporters, "[a]t this very moment, there are no facts in hand that would substantiate or support a criminal charge, or indicate criminal intent on the part of any individual."
As an attorney, I find it difficult to believe that any District Attorney would charge Stewart with an intentional crime, absent significant evidence such as a recording of a contemporaneous statement (or subsequent admission) by Stewart of wanting to teach Ward a lesson.
The second story involved the death of Robin Williams. The local authorities reported that he had died of self inflicted asphyxiation and that Williams had been battling depression and substance abuse.
This second story touched me in greater way than the tragic accidental death on the race track, because I had practically grown up with Robin Williams. One of my favorite TV shows when I was young was Mork & Mindy. As I got older, I saw Williams add to his comedic legacy with roles in Mrs Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam and Aladdin,. (to name a few). I also watched him develop more serious roles such as Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society.
Robin Williams' self inflicted death brought to mind a lesson taught by R' Mansour. I heard a shiur from him years ago wherein he stated that clowns have a high rate of suicide. He explained that clowns make their living from always being happy, but that their happiness was artificial and often, superficial and contrived. In order for a person to be truly happy, he must be somaiach b'chelko - happy with his lot. However, when one spends all his time trying to make others happy, without making any introspection as to his own life, he will not be able to appreciate his blessings and he runs the risk of depression.
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