Hate the SUV, but don't shoot the driver

Posted: May 14, 2005 12:00 AM

Watching film footage of the recent Compton, Calif., shooting of an errant sports utility vehicle, I couldn't help thinking that the demonization of SUVs had reached its inevitable conclusion.

I'm half-joking, but stick around.

The fusillade that brought the white SUV to a standstill involved 10 Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies firing 120 shots, several of which wounded the SUV driver, as well as a deputy.

Citizens whose homes were in the crossfire have protested the artillery spectacle, while others have offered passionate defenses of law-enforcement officials. After all, these brave deputies are in the line of fire every day and, as life is sometimes unpredictable, a perp isn't always a perp.

The driver, 44-year-old Winston Hayes, apparently was unarmed and, except for lousy driving, not precisely a lethal weapon. Yet from the video, you'd have thought he was a suicide bomber commandeering a Humvee out of Fallujah. Deputies reportedly had pursued Hayes for 12 minutes after a radio call that a man in a white SUV was a possible suspect in a shooting.

Only thing is, Hayes wasn't the guy.

I don't mean to suggest that Hayes was up for a Jaycees "Young Man of the Year" award. As we subsequently learned, he had some prior arrests for narcotics and assault. Deputies say he was driving erratically, and they thought he was aiming for them.

We'll let investigators sort things out. Meanwhile, since deputies have Michelle Malkin defending them, and Hayes has the Rev. Al Sharpton. I'm here to say a few words on behalf of the SUV.

First, let me assert that I love cops, sheriffs, SWAT teams, the FBI, the CIA and anybody else with a license to kill. I give money every time anybody wearing a uniform or a badge calls to raise funds. I have stickers all over my vehicle indicating that I'm a supporter. What could be the downside?

Also, I drive an SUV and figure I need all the help I can get. I am keenly aware that some people don't just hate SUVs, they hate SUV drivers. From the looks I get in certain neighborhoods, I may as well be wearing a mink coat and gnawing on a veal chop.

Moreover, for the past couple of years, I've been tracking the spread of Irrational SUV Hostility (ISUVH) and have collected a folder of news stories involving the maligned vehicle. Invariably when an SUV driver is involved in an accident, the story focuses on the SUV. As though sedans, station wagons and especially hybrids never make mistakes.

Here's a headline from the Boston Globe (February 2004): "Teacher dies after SUV strikes her in driveway." The subhead lets us know that the former husband is to face murder charges. Ah. So an embittered husband runs down his wife, but the SUV did it. Would a BMW have killed her any less? I'm just asking.

Here's the Alameda Times-Star (September 2003): "Swerving SUV kills 92-year-old woman." If we read the story, we learn that the woman was killed when the SUV was sideswiped by (ITALICS) another car, forcing the SUV onto the sidewalk. And what was the make of the swerving car? We never learn. Doesn't matter. What's significant is that the SUV killed the poor woman.

Here's a CBS Internet headline from November 2004: "Man dies in SUV accident on Long Island." You'd think the SUV picked the man out of a herd and iced him. In reality, the man crashed his Ford Explorer into a cement barrier after sliding on a rain-slicked road. Presumably, he'd still be alive today if he'd been driving a more popular vehicle.

Just one more, this one from an NBC affiliate in Philadelphia in February: "Police say out-of-control SUV killed blind woman."

Not only do SUVs consume more gasoline than is morally defensible, but they run down old ladies, murder spouses and blind women, and will kill their own drivers in bad weather. If you insist on owning one anyway, the L.A. Sheriff's Department is ready to change your mind. (That's a joke.)

All may change soon as auto manufacturers are turning SUVs into the coolest hybrids ever. Lexus has debuted a luxury SUV with low CO2 emissions and great mileage, and others are riding their bumpers. All those SUV haters out there soon will have to find a new demon to despise - and I have utter faith - but I don't expect to clip many news stories that begin: "Hybrid runs down elderly, blind woman."

Or, "Ten deputies stop hybrid in hail of bullets."