Fatal Gibson County van wreck shines light on plight of those living in poverty

The super-rich and the middle class. We’ll hear a lot about both groups as we spend the next year riding the wave of nonsense toward the 2016 presidential election.

What we won’t hear about is the poor. The kind of people who pile into a van with bald tires and a wooden bumper. The kind of people who will do any kind of work they can find in desperate hope of bettering their situation.

The kind of people who died recently.

Two people were killed and 22 were injured when a packed 1994 Dodge van blew a tire and flipped over near the Fort Branch exit of Interstate 69 just after 3:30 p.m.

Killed were Gena Moise, 60, and 19-year-old Christela Georges. Georges was pregnant. Her child, forcibly born three months premature, was in critical condition as of Friday night.

Most, if not all of the passengers, are, and were, Haitian immigrants.

They were headed from Washington, Indiana, to the AmeriQual processing facility on U.S. 41, where they worked as temps through Service Xpress. Twenty-four of them had crammed in to what was supposed to be a 16-passenger van for a 70-mile slog down the interstate.

About that van: The back seats were stripped out. In their place were two long plywood benches with eight total seat belts. According to the Gibson County Sheriff’s Office, every tire exhibited “extreme” dry rot. Police investigators called it a “death trap.”

Imagine looking at that van and knowing it was your only option. Sure, it could kill you, but what choice do you have? You have to survive.

According to U.S. Census data, more than 46 million Americans live in poverty. But as Americans, we ignore it. We always have. And we’ll never find a solution.

Part of the reason is because poverty has become such a large problem in the U.S. that it would be impossible to curb without a clear plan and dogged effort. And if you’ve met our national politicians, you know that clear plans and dogged effort aren’t their strengths.

But the main reason is because a lot of us don’t understand true poverty. I’ve been unable to pay rent, and I’ve eaten canned beans for lunch for weeks at a time, but I’ve never been forced to ride in a “death trap” to collect a paycheck.

That’s really true for the bumbling gang of sociopaths who want to be our next president. If any one of them were ever poor, they’ve forgotten about it now. Republican front runner Donald Trump (still a strange phrase, after all these months) is worth $4 billion. Hillary Clinton? $31 million. Jeb Bush? $21 million. Bernie Sanders, champion of the downtrodden, is destitute by comparison. He’s only worth $528,000 — roughly 45 times the individual poverty level.

Meanwhile, according to a study by the Harvard Business School, CEOs — those anthropomorphic teeth-whiteners — make 350 times the salary of an average worker. And there’s no indication the gap will close.

America was created as a haven where outsiders could come in, work hard and construct comfortable lives for themselves. Following that mythology, those 24 people were doing exactly what they were supposed to do. Hell, they went above and beyond. They risked their lives for a shift at the factory.

And there are probably thousands of similar vans zipping down the highways of this country, just waiting to blow.

Jon Webb is a writer for the Evansville Courier & Press. Send comments to [email protected].