Sara Mutschlechner was driving three friends home from a New Year’s party in North Texas with her Zeta Tau Alpha sorority sisters. The 20-year-old radio, television, and film major at the University of North Texas, in Denton, was the designated driver for the night, and although they’d only been there about 45 minutes, Sara never made it home, as CNN reports.
Sara Mutschlechner didn’t die because of a drunk driver — although alcohol probably played its part. No, she was stopped at a stoplight after leaving the party, a moderate affair of some 60 people, at about 2 a.m. A black Honda Pilot SUV pulled up beside them, and a conversation ensued between the occupants of the two vehicles, as per Fox News.
“Apparently it was an amicable conversation to begin with,” said Officer Shane Kizer, a spokesman for the Denton Police. “[It] quickly went downhill.”
“Some derogatory statements were made toward the female occupants of that vehicle,” remarks “in a sexual nature.” According to the arrest warrant in the case, the occupants of the SUV said that they wanted to have sex with Sara and her friends.
One of the men in Sara’s vehicle responded that he didn’t care for their comments, that he found them very offensive.
“Some comments were made back towards him, even a couple of threats were thrown.”
At this point, the driver of the vehicle, one Marine Cpl. Eric Johnson, 25, allegedly brandished a handgun — which is now legal to openly carry in Texas — and said that he would shoot.
As the light turned green and Sara started to drive through the intersection, Johnson carried out his threat, firing several shots into Sara Mutschlechner’s vehicle as it passed.
One of the bullets hit home. Sara Mutschlechner, 20-year-old university student, on her way home from a party, was shot in the head. She lost control of the vehicle, struck another vehicle leaving a nearby parking lot, and crashed into an electrical pole. She was rushed to an area hospital, where she spent most of the day on life support before dying from her injuries, while Johnson fled the scene.
Cpl. Johnson was taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals in Yuma, Arizona, where he was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
But why did Sara Mutschlechner die?
Sara was a good and responsible friend; she had not been drinking, according to witnesses, and was just driving her friends home.
This was not “road rage,” as many have put it. Sara wasn’t killed by an angry driver over anything to do with driving.
Sara died because our culture is still a rape culture — she was sexually-assaulted at that stoplight, for no better reason than that she and her friends were there and the men in the SUV felt entitled to say what they liked.
Sara died because a man was unable to accept being told that his remarks were unacceptable and undesired, and because that man was legally allowed to carry a loaded firearm. There should be, can be, no possible doubt that if Johnson hadn’t had a gun, Sara would be alive and well today. And her three passengers are lucky to have survived.
Sara Mutschlechner died because we still aren’t teaching boys that sexual harassment is wrong, that they’re responsible for their actions, that their actions can be criticized and that violence is not the appropriate reaction to that criticism.
Today, another young woman, full of promise and potential, is dead because another man couldn’t handle being told no, couldn’t face the idea that he might be wrong, concluded that his right to offend and harass was more important than lives.
Sara Mutschelchner is dead because rape culture and toxic masculinity are alive and well in the world, and because Eric Johnson was legally entitled to carry the gun that he used to kill her. And whether or not we’d like to believe it, this is not an isolated incident.
How many more like Sara before we learn? How many more before we do something about it?
[Image via Yuma County Sheriff’s Office handout]