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Columns

Keep cool, keep calm and just keep driving

All accounts, Eric Houk was a standup dad.

By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published February 23, 2007


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By all accounts, Eric Houk was a standup dad.

Those who knew him describe the Land O'Lakes man as a good guy, the kind you want as a next-door neighbor. He ran a painting business but usually declined weekend work. That was family time.

The father of three coached his two older sons in youth soccer. He also gathered scores and posted them on the league Web site. That's commitment.

Unfortunately, Houk's story ends tragically.

He and his older brother, Michael, were returning from the Daytona 500 on Sunday night when they became involved in a confrontation on Interstate 4 with three men. Words were exchanged. The three men had a gun.

According to Volusia County sheriff's deputies, the brawl broke out when Eric Houk swerved into the emergency lane to avoid hitting a car but ended up cutting off an SUV. Upset, the occupants, including three men - a 19-year-old and two 21-year-olds - stopped and got out. Eric, 36, and Michael Houk, 42, did, too.

Nothing good happens when two groups of angry motorists face off on the shoulder of a backed-up highway. Eric Houk was shot dead. The three men in the SUV drove off and were arrested down the road one county away.

What happened to Houk could have happened to any of us. We get frustrated in stop-and-go traffic. We're eager to get home after a day at the office or a long road trip. Drivers jockey for position. We've been cut off. We've swerved to avoid smashing the car in front of us. Sometimes we shrug it off and move on. But sometimes in anger we give the finger, blow our horn, tailgate or even flash our high beams at someone we think is driving badly.

Those are the times when temper gets the best of reason. That's why we call it road rage. Thankfully, the results usually aren't tragic. We get the chance to reflect on our moments of high-octane insanity.

What were we thinking? What if that person had been carrying a gun? What if the person we just flashed a finger at woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning?

Houk had three sons, including a 6-month-old, a wife, a painting business, a good life. He had so much to live for. This family needed him to drive away.

The men who confronted Houk were in or barely out of their teens. At that age, a confrontation is about respect, machismo. For them, it's a hormonal brew of bravado and stupidity.

Those men are behind bars, and a widow is left to explain to her boys that their dad died in a senseless showdown.

We try to teach our children how to walk away from a confrontation - even though walking away looks weak. Sometimes it isn't an option. But in traffic, when tempers flare, driving away is always a good idea.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com

[Last modified February 23, 2007, 06:14:00]


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