michael mullady

Editor’s note: ‘WIDE angle’ is a photo commentary by Michael Mullady

The time was just past 11:30 p.m. on Feb. 25, the Saturday of Mardi Gras weekend. While I was patrolling the streets of downtown San Luis Obispo awaiting the mass of police to actually do something besides stand around with their hands in their pockets, I received a hit on my scanner that a vehicle crash had occurred on the Cuesta Grade just north of town.

Within a matter of seconds, I was in my car racing northbound on U.S. Highway 101 trying to beat the response by local firefighters and medical assistance. A few miles out of town the sight of bright red pierced the darkness as road flares became visible in the distance. At the nearest breech in the center divide, I flipped a U-turn and headed back southbound toward the accident.

Surveying the scene as I slowly drove past, I realized I had arrived just as planned, before authorities. I parked far from the crash, being very discreet, and then began to trek up the grade behind the guardrail invisible from the freeway.

As I approached the wreckage, the poignant smell of burnt rubber and ignited flares radiated through the stillness of the cold winter evening. The engine of a late ’90s Mitsubishi Mirage was enflamed and highway patrol had apprehended the driver. Minutes later the San Luis Obispo Fire Department arrived and took appropriate action extinguishing the engine. The driver was found intoxicated and was taken into custody. She was apparently on her way in San Luis Obispo to celebrate Mardi Gras, but never made it.

As a photojournalist, I have been placed in tense situations while covering breaking news. Rarely is there a time when I’m not asked the question, “If that was you, would you want to be photographed?” How do you respond to a question like that honestly, and still do what you came to do. It’s an ethical battle I constantly find myself fighting in the elevated emotions and chaos of breaking news.

To document life, one must do so in its entirety. Driving under the influence is an ever-present problem and until people realize the gravity of the problem, it needs to be exposed. Luckily this time around, no lives were lost.

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