Thursday, June 13, 2013

Self-Sabotage and Subconscious Avoidance


Topic Post
June 13, 2013

James and I had an interesting talk today, that got sympathetically into Maura's mental state.  There is a wealth of information out there, but this "Psychology Today" article is a decent read on Self-Sabotage and Subconscious Avoidance.  I found this quote, in particular, interesting:

"[The subconscious] follows its own set of rules. And these rules can be quite as subjective (and idiosyncratic) as they are paradoxical. To the psyche, winning can feel like losing. And success like failure--and, perhaps even more perversely, failure like success. Although it would hardly make sense to an observer, if failing at something enables you to avoid a situation linked to intolerable fearpanic, or shame, then it does - at least immediately - allow you to emerge triumphant. Even as you experience disappointment, you may breathe a welcome sigh of relief."

I see two ways this kind of subconscious and powerful reaction could have been emerging in Maura's life in he days before she disappeared.

  1. Perhaps Maura's ambitions and rigorous pursuit of them were inventions of her father or family generally, but not truly of her heart's self-identity.  She thus began to sabotage herself subconsciously (credit card fraud, drinking, poorer performance at school and running, irresponsible behaviors at West Point, etc.) to escape the pressure of living up to what she felt a strong conscious desire to be, but a stronger subconscious desire to flee.
  2. If standard putative accounts are believed, Maura crashed two cars in two days.  Are we certain that Maura drank and was drunk on Saturday night?  The officer let off a college kid who drove straight into a guard rail drunk?  And then incurred potential liability for the university or county by putting her into a tow truck dead drunk?  Is it a possibility that she was sober and heading to her father's hotel for a practical reason, such as the trip north that happened on Monday having been originally planned for Sunday? One wonders at the dynamics of Saturday night - and in particular the possibility that Maura had the Corolla because Fred had the Saturn.  (There will be more on this on an update to the "Lot 22" post before Monday, including a significant contribution from a journalist who watches the blog and caught an important detail.).  Is it possible that Maura was avoiding something she found intolerable in crashing two cars in two days?  Refusing, in other words, to go through with some plan and thereby "avoid[ing] a situation linked to intolerable fear panic, or shame ... experienc[ing] disappointment, [while at the same time] breath[ing] a welcome sigh of relief?"

What do you think?  Does this resonate for you?

39 comments:

  1. It partially resonates. I agree that she seems to have grown up with expectations of her that, no matter how hard she tried, would probably never be met. But I would argue that, rather than subconsciously sabotaging herself, she more likely realized the futility of her efforts and decided (consciously or subconsciously) to seek validation elsewhere.

    To be clear, I don't mean "elsewhere" geographically, like that was the point blank reason she left, but "elsewhere" as in with other people and in other facets of life. There could be a degree of subconscious escapism on display (particularly with the drinking) as I'm sure the failure to meet expectations did weigh on her on some level, but that seems secondary to me.

    But suppose she failed a SECOND time. For example, she was feeling totally fulfilled and happy for quite some time within her newfound life template, only to have it blow up in her face both romantically (via Billy's infidelities) and socially (becoming an outcast following the credit card business). THAT could crack somebody who was already fragile and lead to some wildly unpredictable mental processes and subsequent behavior--up to and including fleeing the area, with the intent being either a temporary or permanent departure.

    On a couple of your other points:

    1. It's very possible that Maura was sober (or at least mostly sober) at the time of the first accident. The more I read and learn about the case, the more I think that is actually extremely likely. From the start I've felt like she was AT MOST slightly intoxicated at the time of the second crash, and I'm now feeling that was the case in the first as well.

    2. I've definitely considered the possibility that Fred had the Saturn that night, and/or that Maura's original plan was to leave on Sunday. The only scenario I can think of within that framework that's not too far-fetched is that she was simply going away for a week and was borrowing Fred's car to do so due to the unreliability of the Saturn. And if that's all it was, I'm pretty sure Fred would have said so immediately. Very curious to read the update.

    Jhonez

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    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I don't have anything to add but your perspective keeps mine sober, if you excuse the pun.

      JOhn

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  2. Agree with your points here. Pregnancy is an obvious possible source of this anxiety. Maybe she was going to tell someone the news? Or maybe she was planning to break up with billy or another boyfriend...?

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    1. Pregnancy - particular an unwanted one - sure does jump out as a possibility. But why go up to NH? Unless you are looking for an illegal abortion that requires traveling to someone "you know" (suggesting a later term pregnancy), while it may explain upset, it does not explain what got her all the way up there, you know?

      John

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  3. It's quite possible to be a long way from "dead" drunk and still be sufficiently impaired to misjudge distances and have an accident. If Maura was an experienced drinker, she may also have been very good at acting sober. Add to this that she may have been semi-hysterical and sobbing when LE got to the scene, and it's possible the cop didn't consider alcohol to be a factor. Remember--according to both her father and Bill Rausch, Maura was very, very upset and guilt-stricken about this accident, so considerable distress in the immediate aftermath wouldn't be a stretch.

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    1. Personally I've always found it surprising that an accident at that time of night (3:30am) on that day of week (technically early Sunday) near-ish a university wouldn't be a prime candidate for a breathalyzer test. Do we know definitively, one way or another, if one was administered? (I can't remember.)

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    2. One was not, I believe. The officer wrote it up as driver inattention. Again, in Hadley, there, they ain't liking the townies buzzing drunk through town. It is unthinkable that as drunk as Fred claimed to Graves she was not arrested. It further unthinkable that if drunk the officer assumed for Hadley LOTS of liability by putting a drunk coed in a tow truck.

      John

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    3. Anon on June 13.

      That window of impaired enough to crash but not dead drunk is there. True. But cops know how to spot impairment and there is not cost to them to administering a breathalyzer. So I still wonder about this. Was she drunk. For our evidence is Fred and that has proven to be something less than evidence in the past.

      John

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  4. It tracks. It tracks well. Elephant in the room is starting to assume an outline.

    adam

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    1. Well, the something is. It could be elephant. Or a moose. But at least it is not a bunch of red herrings and analysis without facts stapled together with insistence. I think we have a good process here.

      John

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  5. " Is it possible that Maura was avoiding something she found intolerable in crashing two cars in two days?"

    A friend of mine with experience in mental illness zeroed in on Maura's purchase of alcohol at the outset of the trip. She said it was a sign of someone extremely apprehensive and stressed about some upcoming event or confrontation.

    Just bringing it up, because it echoes the substance of your post.

    adam

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    1. Maybe, but maybe she just did it because she wanted to get drunk.

      The very last thing I did before I moved for grad school was buy a half ounce of weed. I hadn't bought weed in years before that, it just seemed like a good idea for whatever reason.

      Im just saying if I'd disappeared in Montana or something along the way, police found that in my car and people took that as a sign that I was deeply disturbed they would have been dead wrong. I just wanted to get high for a month straight before school started, ya know?

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    2. This is a good point. Sometimes stereotyping is too alluring in thinking through a case. But don't forget, it is not like there is only an isolated drinking or behavior problem issue. So that perhaps supports the more extensive reasoning. But still, it is good to watch the flank as you move out on ideas like that, for as you said, it could be just a kid wanting to drink in celebration of saying FU to UMASS.

      John

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    3. Adam,

      I appreciate the kind of indirect corroboration there. It might be interesting to see if your friend would the evidence and talk with me. I could update the post with something form expert looking at MM's case then.

      Just a suggestion, not a demand. May not be right for you to approach that with your friend.

      John

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    4. It could also be a way of forgetting her troubles or in celebration of meeting somebody special ("I'll get the party started"), a regular pattern of behavior with her or an "I'll show you! I'm going to get drunk!" response. I think the diagnosis is only one of many options.

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  6. I think the point that she probably wasn't drunk when she crashed the first car is a good observation.

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    1. You know Chris, it is actually coming to life. Some other puzzle pieces fit in around that one. I have a lot to post based on my trip. Stay tuned and thanks for the comment.

      John

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  7. John - This quote seems to cover Maura's mental state to a T. I have followed this story closely throughout the years and have read this blog for as long as it has existed and one thing is always painfully clear to me. Maura had this "ideal" life laid out for her - she was set to accomplish all of the things her family (her father) had wanted for her but under the surface all of these pieces were anything but ideal. A cheating boyfriend and the unending pressures of her father are factors enough to ruin the fragile pysche of a young female. Being released from West Point, her lack of competitiveness in running, legal issues, issues in her dorm, etc. - it is clear the pressures became too much. I have and will continue to believe that there are more people that know what truly happened to Maura and that they are closer than we think. It baffles me that after this long we still are not any closer to solving this case.

    I look forward to reading more on the findings that you and James uncover!

    EA

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    1. Thanks EA. When I started looking into a certain idea - of two attempted trips north - it leapt out. And when I found some literature, it leapt out more. This is representative, there are a lot of sources with language that describes her according to the same psychological phenomenon.

      John

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  8. I think it's very unlikely. You've given a small piece of information which may or may not be applicable to the situation. This is the frustrating problem with mental health is that people look at a piece of information rather than the information as a whole an often take things out of context or don’t give all the information either by choice or lack of understanding.

    I'll give an example of what I mean. One of the traits of borderline personality disorder is intense anger. That means nothing other than the person might have anger issues or some other mental illness such as depression. What would make intense anger relevant to bpd is how it manifests itself and it's almost always related to the fear of abandonment.

    You give a small piece of the article and relate it to Maura's actions, but what you're missing is the history of how it may have developed, and this would have developed over the course of years.
    The other thing that's important is many symptoms of mental illness overlap with one another ie. intense anger could be part of bpd, could be depression, could be something else related to mental health or it could be just anger issues.

    Drinking often used to self-medicate also a depressant would explain poorer performance at school, running, irresponsible behavior at west point. The crashing of two cars could also be related to severe depression. I have both bpd and major depression / anxiety and when my depression has been severe simple things become complicated and erratic especially with driving.. should I turn left, right, straight, do I really want to go, should I go home all thoughts taking place at the same time and that’s without drinking. Unfortunately, people think of depression as just being sad and its way more than that. I do believe that she felt pressure to live up to high family standards. This could also have been overwhelming causing her to become depressed.

    I do think Maura, probably had something going on with her but I think it would be something more common like depression or anxiety or both. Also, if she was drinking alcohol since that is a depressant that would have made her depression worse if she had it.

    Anyways, that’s my 2 cents!

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    1. You are, as always, a critical voice here because you often see things differently and reason at things differently than I do. With diversity of views in our group, as new evidence makes more prominent certain possibilities, we've always go somebody out front. So, it is really nice to have someone with a 2 cents that cuts back against something that many others are persuaded by.

      Keep posting.

      John

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  9. When I was about 23 or so, I felt an overwhelming need to 'get away.' I mean, escape a not so horrible, but a set of life circumstances that felt like foreign skin to me. I didn't feel as if I was living on the path that would lead me to where I wanted to go. I picked up some take-out, bought some wine coolers, and headed off to lake Michigan, without talking to anyone about it. I took my sketch pads, my writing journals, and enough money to pay for a cheap place to stay near the lake. I wanted to spend time with myself - no great psychological event, no unusual stresses, I just needed to meet with myself on neutral, but familiar ground. My vehicle broke down on the highway, and a family was kind enough to pick me up and take me to the gas station in the nearest town - which was very small with no hotel. We towed the vehicle to the gas station, and with no place to stay in town, I was forced to call my mother. She came angry, she said, "You're not my daughter. My daughter would never just take off like this. What were you thinking?" But we rode home together, she was angry and confused, and I realized (after having my own children) scared to death. But my situation turned out well - I'm here. But I see many similarities to your daughter's case. Maybe the strangers who stopped to help her were not as well intentioned as mine - but in regards to the article you posted I just wanted to mention that even though I was in a solitary state, a questioning state, an "inventory of my life" state; when that car broke down my survival skills kicked in. I didn't ride with a person who was alone (man or woman) I waited for a family with kids in the car, the safest option in the situation. I couldn't shelter myself in the town,so I called for help - knowing what I was going to hear from my mom, but also knowing she would respond. Mara sounds like a much brighter bulb than I am - I believe that alcohol or not, she would have tried to get the help she needed, made the safest choice she felt was available at the time, and unfortunately, has been prevented from contacting you. I don't think she's unwilling to contact you, I think she's unable to contact you. From the information I've watched on this case, she seems like she's got a good head on her shoulders - she could have made a simple choice, like mine, to get herself centered. In your shoes, I'd never stop looking either. People have come home alive after 10 years.

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    1. I am with CC. Great comment. The personal aspect of it makes the dynamics you point to more credible. The insights into how Maura's survival skills and moxie, which she clearly possessed either did or would have kicked in gives us insight both into outcome scoping as well as the likelihood that she got into anyone's car.

      Keep posting!

      John

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  10. I agree with David W. Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand. But I admit I sometimes suspect a Bipolar disorder at work, because of Maura's credit card theft. Substance abuse and antisocial behavior are often earmarks of this disorder without treatment. Comorbidity is just about 100%, so depression and anxiety would be present. Maura didn't just nick a shirt from the laundry room, she put charges on someone else's card. This should have felt totally wrong to her, but it didn't. Am I putting too much emphasis on that? Maybe. However, for me, the theft puts Maura into a different category beyond the usual college issues. Her age would have been perfect for the onset of Bipolar I. Of course, I didn't know her, but I can't help but feel that the theft shows that a much larger problem was lurking.

    Jamison

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    1. I think Maura may have been a good candidate for lots of what I think they call axis 2 disorders and addiction related problems. If they were taking root deep enough, I think you are right that normal college girl is no longer the standard for judging her behavior. Nor, for that matter is "normal Maura" for these are brain diseases that corrupt judgment and personality. This is a really excellent. Thanks for making sure it got attention here.

      John

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    2. Also, she wasn't able to see that having the pizza (charged on the stolen credit card number) delivered to her own dorm room was not a smart move. She wasn't able to think that through to a logical conclusion.

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  11. And I agree with you (Jamison) that the theft isn't just a small thing. She already had been in trouble at West Point for breaking the rules. But that didn't hold her back. She used that stolen number not once but at least 6 times. When confronted by the police she first tries to lie her way out of it. And I'm not sure if I believe her story about how she found that number.

    She told police she found the number on a receipt for pizza she found on the ground, but I would be surprised if that was true. That number wouldn't have been completely visible. And if it's true it is also a disturbing picture, picking up a used receipt so you can steal a card number.

    And all this just for pizza? She also must have known this was not something she could get away with. Sooner or later someone would find out and trace the orders to her.

    JW

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    1. In 2004, it's completely possible for the entire card number to have been on the receipt. Federal law in the US requiring the truncation of credit card numbers did not go into effect until December 1st, 2006. (Unless her state was particularly forward thinking and had laws in place before the federal one...)

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    2. I am with you JW. I bet it was a friend or associate. And that may be why she wanted to move (i.e., packed up here dorm, suggesting at least a move to off campus).

      John

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  12. I relate alot to maura, she's literally the same age as me within a few days. We graduated high school in the year 2000, to say there was alot of pressure would be an understatement. We were the future, we were gonna make a difference... blah blah blah. From personal experience, as failure came it did seem to be more crushing to my class mates than say 1999 and 2001 graduates I was friends with. Also you are living post 9/11, the economy is starting to go to hell, There is an irritating election process beginning. Would she have just drove off somewhere far without telling anyone for no reason? Yes, absolutely, I did it all the time. I dropped out of 2 schools without telling my family and moved in with someone they never met out of state in 2003 and 04. But I didn't just disappear. However, my family is somewhat functional. Having had those similar experiences with failing out of the prestigious school and having a hard time at the easier school, I think if my family had higher expectations and any consequences for not meeting those expectations, I might choose to drop off the grid. Maura's experience was even more extreme because she was an athlete, she went to a much more prestigious school, had to leave for what we presume is more sinister reasons. All accounts show that she had a very pushy possibly abusive father. If she found someone who had a means for her to get out i would bet she took it or was trying to take it when she disappeared.

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    1. This is a well stated point, in particular the flight maybe beginning as a need for temporary escape that raised the inviting possibility of simply going away for ever, like that recent case of the woman located in Florida, who simply seized an opportunity on a bad day and was gone.

      John

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  13. There is a reason why psychologists actually see patients before arriving at a diagnosis; even forensic psychologists must go through specific protocols before arriving at an opinion, which might differ from that of other experts. So this sort of speculation seems not only unfair to Maura but potentially unproductive for solving the mystery of her disappearance.

    We can say that Maura's dismissal from West Point shows some difficulty with functioning in highly controlling environments; she leaves there and enters a field of study that is rigorous and requires tremendous discipline and willingness to work in an environment with very little room for error. At the same time, she is participating in a college sport at the NCAA Division I level and working. She is in a long-distance relationship with a man who has cheated on her; she herself is involved with others. Both of these situations are not uncommon in college-age individuals but taken with the credit card fraud, suggest that Maura was struggling with some basic integrity issues--and by that I mean being honest with herself about her needs and wants, being honest about her actions, and getting the "outside" Maura in synch with the "inside" Maura. This struggle is common as dirt among college kids, as some of the comments above indicate. College kids flunk out, drink too much, cheat on their boy/girlfriends, cut class, quit teams. Some who get grades, win team awards and appear to be paragons of virtue are also drinking and cheating on their boyfriends and going wild on Spring break. My point is that nothing about Maura, other than the credit card fraud, is all that different from many kids that age--most of whom are not trying to juggle nursing, an NCAA sport, two jobs and an absentee boyfriend at the same time. But once she broke the law, committed credit card fraud, got caught stealing, essentially she had crossed a line maybe she couldn't ignore or deny.

    Perhaps the most interesting item on the blog recently is the speculation that perhaps Maura had not been drinking at the time she wrecked her dad's car. I find it hard to believe that any police officer would fail to note alcohol when an insurance claim was sure to be filed. See, for example, the police report on the NH crash, in which the officer simply assumed Maura had been drinking because alcohol was spilled in the car. If she was not above the legal limit or impaired, that would suggest that two accidents might both be explained by stress and fatigue. That in turn might explain why, if her late-night upsetting phone call was more bad boyfriend/family news, or someone calling to berate her about some failing, she might have decided to take a week and get her life in order. And why her travel plan and behavior after the accident seem haphazard hard to understand.

    Even without knowing her full mental, emotional and social circumstance, we can see pretty clearly that Maura was under a lot of stress and a second accident was actually fairly predictable, given weather, unfamiliar roads, darkness and driver fatigue. But until we know whether she was meeting someone and who that person was, understanding Maura's mental state is not all that much help in answering the question of what happened to her. And to do more than just observes the stressors and the signs she was having difficulty is to take us away from facts and the reasoned interpretation of them.






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    1. I am not sure I agree with your assessment here. I need to think about it. I think you may be missing the point of the post, which I could clarify, but let me think more. In theory, you could apply reasoning similar to your first paragraph's to the concept of Maura not getting a ticket suggesting that she was sober. But because you agree that that makes sense, you don't likewise say, "there is a reason why cops administer breathalizers at the site and not anonymously, nine years later." But I see where you are coming from. Just need to chew on your thoughts more.

      John

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    2. John, I agree that my response does not directly address you main point, as it should. I think first I was concerned about the danger of "long-distance amateur diagnosis," which is seemingly inevitable given that Maura is not here for us to ask the motives and meanings of her actions. I was actually taking your point as a point of departure, assuming that while we don't know for sure either the conscious or subconscious "drivers" of her decision-making and her spontaneous reactions (e.g., her response to the upsetting phone call, why she left the NH accident scene), we know that, as your post points, out, there were likely to be subconscious factors at work as well as conscious ones.

      As someone who has 30 years teaching college kids, I see this subconscious self-sabotage all the time--kids more afraid of succeeding than failing, kids who are poised for big success who get caught doing what they shouldn't do. I think that is the human condition. Many college students struggle in school because they are in majors picked by Mom or Dad or because they have been told "you can get a good job" or "the family is counting on you to be a success"--that last a giant red-flag for family dysfunction. The struggle for self-definition is the work of this time of life; some kids can get past that stage with reasonable success and little damage; others crash and burn, at least for a while. My point was that you are probably correct about self-sabotage, as that explains much of Maura's behavior, but that getting in trouble with the law might signify something deeper than the usual sort of thing at goes on with college students. Felonies and medical careers don't mix, and Maura had to know that so I am wondering if her acting out in that instance isn't pretty much out there for all to see.

      I think I get your point about the breathalyzer analogy, but to be more literal about it, there are only a few explanations about crashing a car and alcohol: the officer on scene could see that the driver was sober or she/he passed field sobriety test; the driver was either on the bubble or DUI and the officer gave the driver break because there were no injuries or the officer didn't want to give the ticket for some reason; or the report cites alcohol involvement and the driver was issued a ticket. I am saying the absence of an alcohol citation is interesting for so many reasons. But your post really opened up my thinking about "what if she were sober?" And what if the NH officer and the others are wrong about alcohol being involved in THAT accident? Then I am more convinced than before that she was under terrific stress.



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    3. I appreciate that clarification and I see now the full fitness and value of your comment. I can be a bit quick to judge given the barrage of crazy comments and emails I got, but I have to remember that registration will scare off most of mom's basement apartment trolls.

      Keep posting! This is good stuff!

      John

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  14. Maybe she wasn't drinking and driving at all, in either crash. Could there have been an advantage to crashing the car, maybe insurance fraud or to somehow cash in on the "beater" car that was in bad shape already? Perhaps the first crash didn't bang it up in the way she wanted, and she had to stage a second accident?

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    1. Insurance fraud is certainly hanging around. Particularly in the second crash. But that was not a good plan for insurance fraud to crash the Saturn there. But like I said, the concept hangs around and I wonder if a theory built on it might work.

      John

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    2. I was pulled over once a few years ago after making some poor choices. It was about 2 am on a Sunday morning and I was very intoxicated. The officer (New York SP) ran me through the sobriety test, informed me that I was intoxicated and in violation of the law. He then guided me into the front seat of his cruiser and drove me the couple miles to my home. In my driveway he handed me my keys and told me to 'have a good night".

      I can easily see an officer letting a pretty 21 year old girl go, knowing that she was being driven to her destination by a tow truck and that the vehicle was not drive-able and that there was no injuries or others involved. I was NOT a pretty 21 year old girl, but I was still shown some sympathy and was cut a huge break. It happens.

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