Old Wives' Tales
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Claim: While a teenager, future First Lady Laura Bush caused the death of a classmate in a car accident.
Origins: Driving is one of the most dangerous activities we engage in, and most of us do it every day, little realizing the peril of it. Every year in the U.S. there are approximately
This is the story of one of those accidents. It resulted in the death of someone you've never heard of, at the hands of someone you have.
In May 2000, a two-page police report pertaining to a fatal accident that had taken place near Midland, Texas, in 1963 was made public. It contained the information that 17-year-old Laura Welch had run a stop sign, causing the death of the sole occupant of the vehicle hers had struck. According to that report, the future First Lady had been driving her Chevrolet sedan on a clear night shortly after
How fast Miss Welch might have been driving is open to question. That part of the police report is illegible, although two biographies of the First Lady refer to her as having been going
News accounts from 1963 reported the young man as having been thrown from his car and dying of a broken neck; he was pronounced dead on arrival at Midland Memorial Hospital. According to various biographies of
The two teen girls were taken to the same hospital and treated for minor injuries that amounted to bumps and bruises.
Michael Douglas, the young man who was killed, had been a member of Laura Welch's crowd at high school and her friend. He had been a star athlete, excelling in track and football, and was looked up to by his peers not just for his athlete prowess, but for his personality and intelligence too. By all reports, he was likeable, outgoing, and funny. He was nominated as the school's most popular boy while a junior, an honor that almost always went to a senior.
There has always been speculation about the nature of his relationship with Laura Welch. One rumor asserts the two had never dated, but that Laura had been romantically interested in him. Another claims he had been Laura's boyfriend when he died, and another that he had once
The accident is difficult to understand in that it took place on a clear night on dry pavement at a crossroads described as "the middle of nowhere," where the view was unobstructed and the stop sign that faced Laura Welch was clearly visible. (The intersection was a
There are those who want to believe the future First Lady deliberately and with malice aforethought murdered her
Then there are the circumstances of the crash. It was
Consider two cars traveling in the dark at right angles to each other, each going approximately
One e-mailed version of the rumor tries to supply an answer to that inconsistency, saying, "She knew it was her boyfriend's car driving south, because of the unique headlight configuration of his 1962 Corvair Sedan." The vehicles were traveling at right angles to one another, so an unusual headlight array on one wouldn't have been visible to the other. (According to the experts, the headlight array on the 1962 Corvair was typical of the cars of the day; two headlights on each side, as this photo shows.)
So 17-year-old Laura Welch did cause the death of a friend by running a stop sign, but to see more in the story than that is to surrender oneself up to baseless imaginings. Yes, it is always easier to attribute malice to bad outcomes, but that does not mean malice is an integral component of tragedy, especially those involving people Fate later chooses to exalt.
According to George and Laura: Portrait of an American Marriage, Laura Welch did not find out that the driver of the other vehicle had died at the scene until later when she and her girlfriend were being treated at the hospital. And she did not learn his identity until later still, when her parents arrived and broke the news to her. It shattered her.
She was barely 17 and she had taken the life of a friend. She has since carried the weight of this, and it changed her, at least according to those who knew her before and after. Only rarely has she spoken of this with the press (although she has often been asked), but even on those occasions her answers have been oblique, almost as if she cannot bear to think of it, let alone speak of it.
Barbara "there are many sides to a tragedy, never just one" Mikkelson
Last updated: 27 September 2004
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