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An online dictionary defines a social contract as "an implicit agreement among people that results in the organization of society."

We live by such a compact. It's how we function. It's what binds us to pay taxes, to not run red lights, to look out for one another.

But it's hard not to wonder whether that compact is unraveling in an age consumed by distractions, self-focus and a preoccupation with doing everything in a hurry. We leave no margins for error.

On Thursday, while on my way to get coffee, I came upon a family waiting to cross Mendocino Avenue at Fourth Street at Courthouse Square. It appeared to be a mom and daughter, about 4, and a grandmother. All were finishing off smoothies.

When the light changed, the girl took a half-step forward, but her mom was still clinging to her hand — thankfully. Because at that moment, a truck gunned it to beat the light. While it may have been yellow as that truck entered the intersection, it was green for us as it raced across our path.

What's clear is all that little girl saw was green.

"That's why we wait and look both ways even when it is our turn to go," I heard the mother say after the vehicle passed.

Yes, even when it is our turn.

At 6:04 p.m. later that same day, a similar crossing occurred just a mile and a half away, but the outcome, this time, was devastating.

At the corner of Rockwell Place and West Ninth Street, a mother and her three children — a 4-year-old boy, his twin sister and their older sister — were waiting to cross West Ninth to get to Jacobs Park next to Lincoln Elementary School.

At that hour, the park was filled with children playing soccer. The children were, no doubt, eager to join them. But they had to cross the four lanes of West Ninth, which is no easy task. Traffic is heavy, and there is no traffic light although the crosswalk is marked in yellow stripes. The mom and the children waited.

A driver heading west stopped to allow the family to cross, in keeping with that common bond of goodwill.

But then that compact shattered.

Witnesses say as the family started to cross, another westbound driver, in a light blue car, raced into the intersection on the outside lane — either oblivious or uncaring as to the safety of others. The car struck the 4-year-old boy, who had been lagging behind, at high speed.

"I thought he flew out of the window, out the car, he was so high in the air," a witness, Brandii Eyler, told Staff Writer Sam Scott. Scott noted that Eyler fought back tears in telling what she saw. We fight back tears in just reading about it.

The boy was taken to Oakland Children's Hospital, where many prayed for a miracle. But it wasn't to be. At 7:34 a.m. Friday, the boy, Christopher Rowe, was pronounced dead.</CS>

Making the story all the more disturbing is what the driver did after the collision. He drove away. He ran and hid, proving he's not only uncaring, he's a coward. Fortunately, someone had the presence of mind to track down the guy and, police say, the driver was seen getting into a Volvo driven by a woman. The witness got the license number, and police were able to find the Volvo's owner.

On Friday, police arrested Marcos Lopez Garcia, a 22-year-old man who lives in the neighborhood. Adding to the outrage, police say the suspect had been cited twice before for driving without a license and was not allowed to drive.

This has already triggered angry debate about what more we need to do to deal with unlicensed drivers, speeders and distracted drivers. It will also trigger a much-needed discussion about crosswalks. Santa Rosa is home to many such crosswalks that span four lanes of traffic but offer no traffic lights for safety. At one time, these may have worked. But no more. They now give a false sense of security and set pedestrians, especially children, up to fail.

But more than anything, this needs to trigger a discussion about us and about how our conduct needs to be governed by something other than just rules, laws and whether the police are watching. This boy is further evidence of what happens when there is no greater contract.

Authorities are still trying to find the driver of a truck that mowed down 43-year-old Don Andrew Casper, a San Francisco attorney and long-distance runner who was staying with friends near Guerneville when he went out for a jog Sunday night. He didn't come back.

CHP investigators say the vehicle that hit Casper on River Road and drove away was a Ford F-150 XLT four-door or possible Lariat, white with black door handles and a gold stripe running along the bottom. Keep an eye out for it.

There have been other victims as well, including 2-year-old Calli Murray, who, along with her mother, Ling Murray, 42, were hit in December. Calli did not survive. They were in a crosswalk. The driver was on her cellphone.

Then there was 83-year-old Miguel Sanchez of Cloverdale who was hit and killed by a kid on his way to high school, who fled and went to basketball practice. His attorney said he fled because he was scared.

Well, so are the rest of us. Scared that our common understanding and concern is falling apart because we're too concerned about getting some place in a hurry, too distracted by whatever is happening on our phones — too preoccupied with ourselves.

Minutes after witnessing that near collision at Courthouse Square on Thursday, I walked out of Peet's Coffee just as a 4-wheel drive truck barreled through the intersection at Fourth, trying to beat the light. Pedestrians on both sides of the street on the far end had already entered the intersection as the vehicle raced through the narrowing gap.

No one was hurt. But once again, there was no margin for error — and no margin for others.

<i>Paul Gullixson is editorial director of The Press Democrat. Email him at paul.gullixson@pressdemocrat.com or call him at 521-5282.</i>