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Bernie Ziebart

The Engineering Perspective

The blog is a view of life, science, politics and education from an engineering perspective. As engineers, we are taught to view the world objectively. We can hope, believe and calculate a particular outcome, but natural laws are inflexible and pay no heed to who we are or what we believe. We must approach the objective dispassionately, while compensating for our own distorted perceptions. Balance is also a key element; balancing between the ideal and the pragmatic, balancing cost and functionality, balancing analysis with action, etc.

Scheduling routine critical self-analysis is the foundation to objectivity. If we do not fully understand and compensate for our own failures, tendencies, habits and skewed thought processes, we will not see the world as it is. Without a regular critical self-analysis we will see the world as we are and then fall prey to self-delusion.

Failure is a great teacher. When failure is coupled with perseverance, it produces the fruit of patience and humility. An engineer, fresh out of engineering school is typically set up for failure early and often. The failure breaks the new engineer of any ideas of self-importance, arrogance and book smarts. Only then can the new engineer be formed and molded into a productive element in the industry.


The time of pain and miracles

I was warned not to get very personal when blogging. I was told just to stick to an issue based format.  But after my U-2 blog, a nerve was hit and I found that I could think of nothing else.  For today, I will ignore the well-meaning advice.

While running this race called life, things will pop up that can catch us off guard and throw us off stride.  

There was an unforgettable day that caught me off guard.

On the morning of March 29th, 2009 we got a call from my niece, (brother's daughter) Amber. She wanted the families to meet for lunch after church on Sunday, as we often do. But there was some snow on the ground still from the storm and the plows had not finished clearing the roads. We wrestled a bit whether or not to push the lunch off for a week. In the end, we agreed to meet at Oscar’s in Waukesha at 12:30.

I did not see my brother’s family at church and thought that the weather probably played a factor and then I went to the mother-in-laws house for lunch. 

On the way home from my mother-in-law’s house, I received a call informing me of the accident.  A large flat bed truck driven by Mexican immigrants spun out of control in the snow and hit my brother’s Ford Explorer.  The entire family was taken to Froedtert hospital by Flight for life.  

At the hospital, I learned about the details; Karl and my nephew, Luke, were instantly killed and the remainder of the family had suffered severe trauma.

I was reeling; my emotions were running wild, my legs turned into jello. I couldn’t think. And there came the news reporters. I had 4 microphones and cameras in my face, being peppered with questions and the only thing I could say that I loved my brother and I will miss him….but what about the men in the truck? 

I couldn’t sleep that night. I stayed up and wrote down my thoughts. I think very methodically, I need to sort out my thoughts by writing. I wrote a letter to myself and I also wrote one to my family, friends and co-workers.

Letter to Friends and family

I just want everyone to know that this morning Karl and Luke went to be with Jesus.  They were in a car accident involving a large flatbed truck that crossed the median and struck them.  Karl, Luke and a girl, Cara, were killed instantly.  Amber, Zechariah and Denise were critically injured.  Amber and Zack are in intensive care, but they are stable.  Denise is not in stable condition, suffering severe head trauma.


Karl loved Jesus with all of his heart, mind, soul and strength.  He will have a glorious homecoming, indeed.  He was a man of deep convictions, lived humbly before God and had a pure heart.  In every decision he thought first and foremost about what God would want, what was best for his family and then acted on it.  He had an active faith and lived out what he believed. Karl lived with courage, convictions and character.  There was no deceit, envy, malice, insincerity and dishonesty to be found in him.  Mischief; yes.  But truly the world was not worthy of him. 


I have been unbelievably blessed to have him in my life and really don't know what I'm going to do without my brother, friend, counselor, sympathetic ear, teammate, political ally and soul mate. Although we were not identical in action, we were identical in attitude, faith and beliefs.  If someone wanted to know what I thought regarding a certain topic, they would only need to ask Karl.  He could explain my convictions better than I could; and with grace.


Karl and Luke will be greatly missed. 


Farewell my friend and brother until we meet again on that distant shore. 

I had wrestled with God all night but I found peace at around 9 am.  I made the decision to trust God to make all things beautiful; ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust him”.   But I had a tremendous task ahead of me. I had to fight off the lies of doubt, anger and resentment. 

I was at a decision point in life; I could either believe the lies that were bombarding my mind and follow the downward spiral of depression, anger, fear and bitterness or believe the promises of God and follow the path of hope, truth and love. 

In my mind’s eye, I had a picture. I was at the end of a tunnel and there were only two options; a ladder and a slide. The slide was big, wide and comfortable. All I had to do was to sit down and gravity would do the work…but it led to despair and depression. The ladder, on the other hand, looked old, rickety and the spacing between the rungs was very big…and it led to hope and reconciliation. I would need help to climb that ladder because I had felt so weak. But I was determined to climb the ladder, despite everything screaming within me to me to take the easy way.  The answers in life are counter-intuitive; peace is found through letting go.

I knew that I couldn’t climb the ladder without help. I had determined to ask God for the strength every morning to climb the next rung.

All of us have believed a lie; a lie about ourselves, about others or about God himself. These lies will hold us hostage. I was determined not to let junk get planted into my mind in my moment of weakness.

After about a week God me a supernatural love for the 3 men in the accident.  The three men were illegal aliens from Mexico and lived in the Milwaukee area. They were working for Terra Tec, a landscape/snow removal business. Since the men were illegals, they were taken to the Washington county jail. 

During the course of the next week I was determined to visit the three men that were in the County jail. But they did not want to see me.  I then wrote a letter and had it translated. By the time it was translated, the men were moved to a detention facility in Mexico.

The next week was spent getting power of attorney over my brother’s finances, caring for his family, juggling the funeral arrangements and finding a home for his pets. During this time I had received tremendous support from my church, family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. People from my church were bringing two or three meals daily. Neighbors were taking care of my home. And my sister-in-law took my kids.

The letter that I had sent out 9 days after the accident  

I would like everyone to know how much I appreciate your thoughts, prayers and concerns at the loss of my brother and nephew.  


My nephew, Zack, and niece, Amber, are recovering very quickly.  Despite the number injuries (primarily to internal organs) 48 hours after the surgery both were able to stand and walk.  My sister-in-law, Denise, did not fare as well. She suffered tremendous head trauma with fractured scull and swollen brain. Mentally she is responding well.  Her memory of past events is there, but there is no memory of the accident.  The doctors estimate that she will be in ICU for at least another 2 weeks.


The loss is incomprehensible.  I still can’t get my arms around the enormity of all of this.  It’s not only the loss but also the new responsibilities of having legal custody of two children and the executor of his estate.  


There isn’t much help that I really need.  My wife’s twin sister has taken my 4 children and my neighbors and church members have cleaned my house, cooked meals, done the laundry, etc.  (I will not be able to express my depth of gratitude to them).  Your continued moral and emotional support is the only thing that I need at this point.


Yesterday, I was with the sheriff at the crash scene.  As I looked through debris that was just off of the road something sparkled in the long grass and caught my eye.  I bent over and picked it up.  A wave of emotion swept over me as I realized that I was holding a half of my nephew, Luke’s, Nintendo DS.  I was then able to understand the extent of the impact.  


I also wrestled with the probability of it all.  If he had left his home 10 seconds sooner or later he would not have met his tragic end.  If the oncoming vehicle had not been a flat bed truck or if he hadn’t driven the Ford Explorer, he would have different results.  If the collision did not occur were it did, he would be alive (he was trapped between a vertical wall to his right and the truck to his left.  In an open field, he would have been able to avoid the collision.)  The list of events that had to occur for this result to take place is mind-numbing.  


My brother and I were very close.  Our families went on trips together, vacationed together, had children that were the same age and had the same world view.


I am being stretched emotionally, spiritually, mentally and financially. I but will be fine.


Thank you for your overwhelming support and love during this difficult period.

Thanks, Bernie 

Then someone at work suggested that I visit their family. They had seen the newscast and it referenced their families that lived on the northwest side of Milwaukee. I looked up the court documents and got their address. Then the visit…

God has one over riding desire…for his love to be shared and spread. God will use anything, anyone and any circumstance to spread His love. 

A Spanish interpreter had accompanied me on the visit to the Guerrero family. I knocked on the front door of the apartment and waited for a response. After some time, a Hispanic female in her early 30’s answered the door, “How can I help you?” I answered that I was looking for the family of Javier, Ricardo and Armando Guerrero. She said that there was no one in the apartment associated with those three men. “Please,” I replied, “This was the address provided by the three men.” She then said that they had moved.   I, then, pulled out the court document citing the address and said that the address was listed as residence about 2 weeks ago and there is no evidence of a move.

There was about 5 minutes of back and forth debate. She even tried to close the door once, but I put my foot into the doorway. Then a man at the back of the room came forward and said in Spanish, “Yes, this is the Guerrero residence, what do you want?” 

I then explained that there was an accident involving members of their family and my brother. My brother and nephew had passed away, but I hold no grudge or animosity towards the men and their family. But to the contrary, I know that the men must feel a tremendous amount of guilt, shame and hurt from the accident and their actions. I also know that their lives will never be the same as a result of the accident. I have come to offer my condolences to them. And beyond that I want them to know that I completely forgive them and love them in spite of what had happened. I have no bitterness, anger or resentment towards them. 

When I had finished with my introduction, the Guerrero family was visibly shaken and teary eyed. The man who came to the door said, “We knew who you were when you walked up the sidewalk. We had seen you on TV. And we had feared the day when a family member would show up. In Mexico, if you killed my brother, I would have killed your brother, at a minimum. We sat here in fear trying to figure out who would likely be killed.”

“Revenge is the furthest thing from my mind,” I had reassured them, “I have nothing but love, hope and forgiveness for you.”

Our meeting became a hugfest. I then went to my car and brought back food and gifts for the children. I stayed for about an hour and talked about the family history of both families and the events that followed the accident. 

For the next two years, I had stopped in about every two months and brought food and gifts at every meeting.   They had become like my family. I became acquainted with their plight of losing the wage earners in the family and being separated from the three men. 

I had also sent a letter and money to the three men in the Mexican prison.

In late 2011, the Guerrero family moved to Texas and I have lost contact with them. But the memory of them will last my lifetime.

I no longer look at the incident only as a time of loss, I now view it as a time of loss and as a time of great gain. It was a time of challenge, but also a time that God met that challenge. It was a time of pain and miracles. 

Links to news articles about the accident:

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