The indiscriminate attraction of humans to morbidity, as is the case in the spread of Nikki Catsouras death photo on the internet, is not new. It was only brought to our remembrance on October 31, 2006, when the victim’s family suffer distress from seeing the death photos of their beloved published on the internet.
Nikki Catsoura’s death photographs was leaked by the patrol officers that responded to the accident that happened in Lake Forest, California that day, leading to its widespread, the emotional and psychological distress the Catsouras family endured, and the legal action they had to take to help themselves, and stop the cruel reminder of their loss.
Background to the Story
The Catsouras had lunch at their home in Ladera Ranch, California, on October 31, 2006. After lunch, the father, Christos Catsouras, left home for work while the mother remains at home. The mother, after some minutes, notes that she hears a door close and footsteps through the back door. She investigates and sees her husband’s Porsche 911 Carrera reversing out of the garage, her daughter, Nicole “Nikki” was at the wheels.
She calls her husband to inform him since Nikki wasn’t allowed to drive that car. Christos begins to search for his daughter and calls the emergency number to help him locate the car. He was put on hold for some minutes and was later informed of the accident.
Nikki Catsouras Accident
Nikki was travelling at about 100 miles per hour on the 241 Toll Road in Lake Forest at about 1:38 pm. She bumped a Honda Civic as she tried to pass by its right side. The Porsche changed its travelling course due to the impact and crossed the road’s broad median. Due to a lack of a barrier on that part of the road, it crashed into a concrete toll booth near the Alton Parkway Interchange.
Nikki died on the spot and the car was destroyed. Toxicological tests exposed that there was no alcohol in Nikki’s blood; however, there were traces of cocaine in her body.
How Nikki Catsouras Death Photographs Came to be.
Reports suggest that the accident was so gruesome that the coroner denied Nikki’s parents the identification of her body. However, as per regulations of the California Highway Patrol, CHP, it is required that the responding officers take photographs of the accident scene for record purposes.
Aaron Reich and Thomas O’Donnell, employees of the CPH, took photographs of the accident scene, including Nikki. O’Donnell admits to taking the pictures as per regulation but also sending it to his personal email address for viewing at some other time. Reich admits to sending the pictures to four other people, who obviously sent them to others, and the spread began.
Effect of Nikki Castouras' Death Photos on her Family
Nikki Catsouras’ parents discovered the picture online; many of them were sent to them anonymously with unrelated and misleading captions. In some cases, the pictures taunts Nikki’s father that his daughter is still alive.
The family withdrew from the internet and had to keep their youngest daughter at home to protect her from taunts that may come from the picture at school.
The emotional and psychological stress the family was already experiencing seem to be more than enough for any human being but the decadence in the humanity and morality of the modern world seeks to deepen the cut that the Catsouras are trying to love with. The coroner’s decision to prevent them from seeing Nikki’s dead body is to protect them from living with that image for life. However, the lack of empathy in most humans made the Coroner’s effort a waste.
Legal Action by the Family
The Catsouras sued the California Highway Patrol and the two supervisors responsible for the photo leak, in the Orange County Supreme Court of California. On the ruling of a Judge, the family was encouraged to press on with the charges. This prompted the CPH, after internal investigation, to issue a formal apology to the family. O’Donnell was suspended was 25 days without pay while Reich quit his job for reasons unrelated to the accident and photo leak.
However, during summary judgement, Judge Steven L. Perk dismissed the case on the grounds that the two officers have no obligation to protect the privacy of the Catsouras, although their action was utterly reprehensible. The CPH sent cease and desist notices to websites to curb the spread of the pictures but they had little effect.
In 2010, the California Court of Appeal reversed Judge Perk’s ruling and in 2012, the CHP reached a settlement with the Catsouras family, paying them over 2 million dollars in damages and admitting that no amount of money can compensate for the pain the family has had to endure.
The propensity of humans to spread news as fast as possible isn’t new. However, it is against humanity and every morality one can think of, to taunt a grieving parent with the pictures of their dead child. The level of decadence in the society attests to the severity of the mental problems that abound in many homes. However, the mental strength of the Catsouras family helped them remain strong.
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