Last week, on January 14 a prison transport vehicle carrying 15 people skidded off a Texas highway overpass and plunged into the path of a moving freight train. After the collision, the bus was dragged for about 200 yards along the tracks before coming to a complete stop. Officials concluded that icy roads were to blame for the crash. Two correctional officers and eight inmates died from injuries suffered in the accident.

One of the victims, 29 year-old inmate Tyler Townsend had called his mother in Benbrook the night before. “I said, ‘Let’s pray for a safe journey. Call me Sunday night,’ ” Petra Townsend recalled. “He said, ‘OK.’ ”  “I said, ‘I love you.’ He told me he loved me too, and that was it.”

She admitted that her son chose his own journey outside of the law early on, using drugs as a teenager. He went to prison twice before, for drugs and other crimes, including car theft, but managed to graduate from an alternative school, and even tried college. “I always believed he was going to change that path,” his mother told reporters. She felt that Tyler believed it, too. Sentenced to three years, Tyler was denied an early release on Dec. 28, and was scheduled to come back home next January.

A deeply religious woman, Mrs. Townsend said her son had recently been baptized in prison. She said her faith does not have room for laying blame for her son’s death. “That’s part of a plan we can’t understand. This is God’s business. This is God,” she repeated. “No, no, no. Don’t question.”

I am fairly certain that none of the men involved in this tragedy woke up that morning and expected to end up later that day in a box. Talk about bad timing – the weather, an icy overpass, the train schedule. But when it comes to death, what would be good timing? Maybe if you are 98 and languishing in a nursing home with a worn out shell of a body and a mind that long ago faded away into faint shadows of the past?

I’m going to file this story in a folder I call “My Last Breath is . . . When?” It’s a collection of news items that address the utter frailty of life, and our reluctance to admit or expect just how quickly it can change or even cease. I may post a few of those reports as time goes on. For now, considering my own inevitable fate I must reluctantly acquiesce, concurring with the admonition from James 4:14: “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

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