When two drivers pulled up to a four-way stop in a Stony Brook parking lot at the same time last week, they solved their right-of-way dilemma the old-fashioned way: with pistols.
When the dust settled, Richard Koenig, a retired J-town cop and apparent active rageaholic, had blasted Darren Pickerill, a 33-year-old Hummer owner, seven times in the head, chest and arm, earning the right to, you know, go first. Both men were packin’ legal .40-caliber semiautomatic handguns, widely believed to compensate for small body parts, most notably the brain.
Coincidentally, Stony Brook is the site of the worst incident of road rage I’ve ever witnessed. One day last winter I dropped the family at the IMAX Theater and pulled around to find a parking space. A woman in the car ahead of me beat another driver to an open spot he thought was his. He got out of his truck, stormed over to the now-cowering woman, and screamed at her through her closed window. He finally gave up, got back in his truck and sped off — about 40 feet, to another open spot.
Maybe we should cut the drivers a tiny bit of slack because the incidents happened in Stony Brook, where road rage is just one way of letting others know you care. The Hurstbourne Parkway corridor is a driver’s nightmare of gridlock, offering fume-buzzed commuters a scorched-earth landscape of big-box stores, car lots and chain restaurants to look at while AM radio hosts whip them into a furor on their 20-minute trip to go two miles. But it’s not always that nice. Sometimes there’s a wreck.
Other cities should send planners to Hurstbourne to study how not to design their ’burbs. When I worked on Bunsen Parkway, I could see I-64 from my office window, but it took 15 minutes to drive there. My pals and I called the road “the Hurstbourne hairball.” We credited anyone who navigated it safely with “crème-rinsing the hairball.”
My wife, a therapist trained in nonviolent communication, cautioned me not to look for simplistic answers to the bizarre shooting incident. “There’s almost always a deeper cause,” she said. “Maybe both men felt that they weren’t being seen, weren’t being heard.”
I guess they fixed that. But I get her point. Bad suburban planning, road rage and our gun-loving culture might have been contributing factors, but two Yosemite Sams shooting each other over a right-of-way dispute at a four-way stop says a lot about the society we live in. Each man might as well have been looking in a mirror.
My own reaction to such a sad event is to slow down, go to the woods, get away from the fumes. It might not solve the alienation problem in our society, but it can’t hurt. In the meantime, here are two simple rules you need to follow to be safe at four-way stops in America:
1. Always assume the other driver is armed.
2. Whoever’s quicker on the draw has the right of way.
Contact the writer at