“Our busy minds are forever jumping to conclusions,” the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, “manufacturing and interpreting signs that aren’t there.”

Epictetus would have made a lousy online commenter.

To wit:

One week ago today, the annual United Bikers of Maine Toy Run turned suddenly and horribly tragic just after noon as the procession headed northbound on Interstate 95 in Augusta.

A pileup involving a pickup truck and several motorcycles left two people dead, four people injured and thousands of Mainers wincing at the sight of something so right, in the blink of an eye, disintegrating into something so wrong.

Police, as they typically do, initially said the incident was “under investigation.”

In a follow-up the next day, Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland reiterated that “we have not drawn any conclusions” about exactly who hit whom.

Didn’t matter. The online peanut gallery doesn’t draw conclusions – it spews them.

“Did anyone notice that the skid marks in the photo looks like the truck made a sudden and abrupt left turn from the passing lane into the travel where the motorcycles were traveling in before the truck went off the road and rolled over on its side into the right hand lane ditch,” posted one reader.

“Perhaps he was being aggressively tailgated in the passing lane and a busy travel lane made it a difficult situation for the truck driver to merge into safely,” chimed in another.

Yet another, responding to an earlier post and self-identifying as a cousin of one of the deceased, pleaded for people to remember that “families of these accidents DO read these comments.”

That person added, “Not all those who ride bikes do it dangerously. And if you read the article A TRUCK HIT THEM.”

Then there’s the reader who goes by “guestnulll.”

“I looked at the photos of the crash scene with tire marks that were posted yesterday,” wrote this person. “It appears the truck driver was in the passing lane and abruptly moved into the travel lane, striking the motorcycles.”

Keep in mind that this comment came under a follow-up story about families and friends grieving the two fatalities. But that didn’t stop this armchair detective.

“I see one scenario the truck driver went to merge into the travel lane and did not look, making the truck driver responsible for the crash,” surmised “guestnulll.”

But wait, there’s more:

“I see one scenario as being the truck driver’s truck was surrounded by other vehicles and being tailgated-pressure to move over. The truck driver attempted to do so in a very busy travel lane and hit the cyclists. Making the tailgaters behind the truck being responsible for the crash.”

Give that poster a thumbs-up for imagination. As for accuracy, not so much.

On Thursday, McCausland announced that police had determined that one of the deceased motorcyclists – not the pickup driver – was in fact responsible for the crash.

It occurred, McCausland said, when that rider “veered his motorcycle into the path of a pickup truck which was traveling in the passing lane. That collision set off the chain reaction crash involving the pickup and several other motorcycles.”

This followed days of speculation that the pickup driver must have been at fault. After all, he was driving the pickup and they were just on bikes, right? He went across their lane, right?

“William Nusom, 67, of Hollis attempted to avoid the collision by steering his truck into the median guardrail,” McCausland reported. “The truck then lost control and traveled across the three northbound lanes, striking other motorcycles taking part in the United Bikers of Maine Toy Run.”

Back to “guestnulll,” whose two “scenarios” – including one that pinned the crash directly on the pickup driver – could not have been more wrong. What says this person now?

“How about an apology to the truck driver from people who blamed the truck driver?” chided “guestnulll” to his fellow posters. “Didn’t think so.”

Sanctimony, thy name is “guestnulll.”

But this is not just about one newspaper reader with way too much spare time and way too little ability to think critically. Or, for that matter, self-critically.

The bigger point here is that tragedies like this aren’t just a headline to click on, a story to pick apart and a virtual public square where, for far too many, the bigger bonfire you can ignite, the better.

We’re talking about real people here, folks. Real lives snuffed out in an instant. Real hearts broken. Real tears shed by those left behind to pick up the pieces.

That is why this newspaper, as a matter of policy, shuts off reader comments on certain news stories – sexual assaults, murders and other calamities where internet trolls are all too ready to pounce. Sure, our online moderators can and do take offensive comments down – but only after they’ve been posted and, alas, the damage has been done.

(In fact, the public comment section was shut down during the Press Herald’s initial online coverage of this incident. Perhaps, in retrospect, the moratorium should have been extended to subsequent updates.)

So here I sit, one week removed from the carnage on I-95, and I can’t help wondering how William Nusom must feel.

One minute, the poor man was driving along the highway with his 99-year-old mother in the passenger seat. The next, there was wreckage everywhere, he and his mother were both being treated for minor injuries, and the tide of public opinion was already turning, however unfairly, against him.

A voicemail message left on Nusom’s home phone Friday got no response. Perfectly understandable.

But what I’ll never get my head around is why some people, when they see catastrophe from afar yet have precious few facts to figure out exactly what happened, still see fit to log on and start doling out the blame.

Old Epictetus was right: For as long as there’s something to see, our busy minds will forever jump to conclusions.

But our busy minds aren’t the real problem here.

All those busy fingers are.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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