This was no 'tragic accident'

A police officer examines the mangled wreck of an SUV where a carjacked vehicle plowed into a crowd, killing three. (Alejandro Alvarez / Staff)

ONE DAY, the trials for Cornelius Crawford and Jonathan Rosa will be over, their guilt or innocence decided, their appeals - there are always appeals - resolved.

If there's justice, Crawford and Rosa will rot in jail for life for the carnage of last July 25.

That morning, they allegedly carjacked a real-estate agent in her Toyota, pinballed psychotically through North Philly then careened onto a sidewalk, killing three kids and their mom.

The crash, by the way, was not a "tragic accident," as Crawford's defense lawyer, C.P. Mirarchi III, has had the gall to characterize it. Crawford, he said, never intended to kill anyone.

Yo, counselor: A "tragic accident" happens when your foot slips off the brake and onto the gas pedal when you're backing out of a driveway and you hurt someone as a result.

The North Philly horror was an absolutely predictable outcome of a willful act of terror. The fact that Crawford didn't see it coming, well, that comes with the territory.

Deal with it.

One of the survivors, the carjacked real-estate agent, described the ordeal at this week's preliminary hearing for Crawford. The two men, she said, took turns with her in the back seat - one driving like a maniac while the other forced her to perform oral sex on him.

The horror lasted 20 minutes. Lord knows how long its memory will haunt the woman, whose rib and collarbone were broken.

"Rape changes a person," says Mylisa Kesselman, a therapist with Women Organized Against Rape. "It's always with you, as part of the history of who you are. But it doesn't have to define you."

Kesselman does not know the real-estate agent, but if the woman is like the 1,000-plus victims Kesselman has counseled over the years, her recovery will follow a certain pattern.

"It's like grief - there are stages you go through," she says. "The initial phase, as with any trauma, is shock: 'I can't believe this happened to me. I thought these things happened to other people, but now I'm one of them.' "

Next she says, comes the questioning: Why did this happen to me? What did I do to create the situation?

"There can be a sense of shame or guilt" - especially if the victim knows her rapist, says Kesselman. If the accused is a family member or friend, there might be anger from family members that you reported the rape, or judgment from friends who are wondering why you'd ruin the life of a "good guy" for something you may have brought upon yourself.

Because the real-estate agent was apparently a stranger to her alleged attackers, she may wrestle, instead, with the realization hits that she had no control over being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"The reality is that any of us could experience trauma at any time," says Kesselman. "We could walk out of the building today and be physically assaulted or hit by a car or carjacked. These things happen. There's a sense of helplessness that goes along with that."

Victims can boomerang between feeling angry and feeling numb about the helplessness - and about the fact that different events may trigger feelings they thought they'd worked through, like panic or terror.

"I have client who was a teenager when she was assaulted by a boss at one of her jobs," says Kesselman. "He was arrested, convicted and went to jail for number of years. She'd been feeling relatively safe, but then the court sent her a notice that he's getting out. It triggered all the old fear and anger about her assault."

The feelings don't last forever, says Kesselman, but their unpredictability can be rattling.

"We try to give people tools to handle the triggers so that the feelings pass relatively quickly."

In her years working with sexual-assault survivors, Kesselman has been inspired by clients who have found the strength to endure wrenching courtroom trials about intensely private matters.

Who courageously face fear and shame.

Who doggedly reclaim lives that had been shattered by assault, because, really, hadn't their perpetrator taken enough from them already?

The process is a privilege to witness.

"I am awed by my clients' resilience," says Kesselman.

My hope is that the real-estate agent - who was doing nothing more than going about her day, which probably began like every other - finds the resilience to get past what happened to her on a day that should've ended like every other one, too.

Mostly, may she find peace.



Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly