I celebrated my New Year’s in 2007 by staying home. I always stay home on New Year’s I have to, for my own safety. I know what people are doing that night, and I’m not about to get on a road and put myself in harm’s way because thousands of other people have chosen to celebrate that particular evening by drinking themselves into oblivion and then getting on a road I may also be traveling on and possibly taking my life because of it. I’ve been staying home for many years on New Year’s Eve, and I will continue to do so. Our world is unsafe enough on an average day I’m not about to become a victim when I can protect myself from others who just don’t give a damn.
As many of you may already know, a tragedy occurred on December 30, 2007. An average day. A 24-year old man drank himself into oblivion at a bar in Oregon, Ohio, and after stopping at a Taco Bell, began to drive onto I-280 going the wrong way in the southbound lane. Within minutes, he had snuffed out the lives of an innocent family who had been visiting relatives in Michigan. Eight innocent people driving along a stretch of highway who had no clue that five of them wouldn’t even live to see New Year’s day. A tragedy that has left the families of the victims, the drunk driver, and all who loved them, in complete and utter shock.
And all of this happened on an average day.
The criminal’s blood alcohol tests showed he was three times over the legal limit. Three times. So drunk that he didn’t even realize that headlight’s coming toward him signaled something was wrong. He only, truly realized what happened, and what his fate became the next morning when he awoke in a jail cell and was told what he had done. The magnitude of driving with such temerity never known until his eyes opened long after a tragedy that could have been avoided.
The family members that died Sunday night will never celebrate another New Year’s. The survivors may never want to celebrate one, and the criminal will be alive to see many more to come, but he will never watch the Ball drop behind the bars that will encase his life for many years,. New Year’s Eve will never mean the same to anyone that has been touched by this tragedy. Even though the tragedy occurred before New Years, how can one celebrate those in the future with the memory of knowing that one in particular is a constant reminder of how horrible the last one ended?
Christmas time will never mean the same again for all those involved in this horrible tragedy with the loss of innocent lives.
Who is to blame for this? The drunk driver? Yes, but he alone is not the only one at fault.
The victims did nothing wrong that evening they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The drunk driver made a very bad decision.
The Bartender’s that served him are at fault, the establishment where he became intoxicated is at fault, those who knew about this kid’s drinking problem are at fault, but most of all, our justice system is at fault. Over and over again, our system either imposes simple, meaningless punishments on those who deserve much more, or let violators off with a slap on the wrist, because there either isn’t enough jail space to hold them, or high priced attorneys can barter for leniency. If you have a good lawyer, chances are, you’ll be set free to start all over again.
When punishment isn’t harsh, when first time offenders aren’t punished at all what lessons are learned by this?
Are we to believe that this drunk driver had his very first drinking experience on that evening and just went too far? Highly doubtful. At 24, even without knowing him, I’m sure this wasn’t his first experience with alcohol. This wasn’t a case of, “I never drank before and I just drank too much”. This criminal was already well on his way to alcoholism years before December 30th, 2007. This wasn’t a first time offense, this was just the first time his behavior resulted in tragedy.
What about those who were serving him that evening at the bar? Does it not occur to a bartender that when someone drinks more then 5 drinks, they’re already past their legal limit. Most people drive to bars, do they not? With that in mind, do bartenders have a responsibility to monitor a patron’s alcohol intake for the safety of society? You’re darn right, they do. Maybe this criminal was just a good tipper.
Has the owner of that bar, or any establishment that serves alcohol, ever instructed employees to “cut off” those who’ve had too much to drink, and then go a step further to help find them an alternative way to get home safely? If they don’t, they are to blame.
Was the family of this drunk driver completely unaware of his drinking problem? Not a chance. Most teenagers or young adults aren’t closet drinkers. They knew, but they did nothing about it. There was no intervention. They contributed to his addiction because of their lack of interest in helping him kick it. When a family knows one of their own can be a danger to themselves or to society as a whole, and they do nothing, shall we not hold them partially responsible? Of course we should. However, I highly doubt they’d agree with me. They didn’t want the responsibility of helping their son, so why would they admit to us that they did anything wrong? The only thing they have disclosed, by their lack of involvement, is that they didn’t care not about their son, and not about people he killed. I’m not saying they are not feeling a loss themselves, but they will never feel the same kind of loss as the people who loved those who were killed and seriously hurt on I-280, December 30th, 2007.
Our Criminal Justice system is at fault too. In fact, I believe it is a direct result of this accident even more so then the killer himself. This twenty-four year old knew, even in his stupor, that even if caught, he’d probably get off, serve some probation, and pay some fines. Hardly something to deter anyone from committing such a heinous act the act of getting into a vehicle that we have no control over and blindly driving down a road. If I was caught in possession of an illegal firearm, I’d be arrested immediately. Is a vehicle, driven by a drunk driver not equal to the same danger as someone in possession of a gun? Our system doesn’t seem to think so.
That’s exactly what we are doing when we’re drunk and driving a vehicle driving blindly, in a weapon that quite possibly will take a life or alter one forever. Yet, our Justice system is more concerned about imposing fines on those who don’t wear seat-belts or smoke in no-smoking areas. Park in a handicap spot, $500.00 ticket. Drive drunk, get probation.
How many times have we turned on the news to find that a habitual drunk driving offender has finally and only after a horrible act, been given the punishment he should have been given the first time? More often then not. Twelve priors and a suspended license just might finally get you some jail time.
If you’re caught.
We have zero tolerance for bullying in schools, zero tolerance for weapons in schools, but we tolerate drunk driving each and every day? We don’t have a system of Justice; we have a system that fails to provide it.
In 1994, I entered college with a dream to join the system. I graduated with honors from one college with an Associates degree in Applied Sciences, majoring in Criminal Justice. I then went on to another University to continue my studies, looking forward to the upcoming Bachelor’s degree I would earn in the same field.
I walked away in 2003, 4 classes short of obtaining it. I will never go back to get it. It’s not worth it to me I don’t want to be part of something that doesn’t work. I’m ashamed of it.
No matter how serious first time punishments for offenses are, there will be individuals who will still break the law. But you cannot tell me, that zero tolerance for drinking and driving won’t change the outcome of our offenses today. It would.
Maybe I should have studied Law and became a judge. My sentencing would be much different then what you see today. My ability to set the punishment on sliding scales would certainly point in favor of maximums. Drunk drivers would never be able to barter using high priced lawyers.
No, I wouldn’t stand for it.
Zero tolerance isn’t going to stop drunks from getting in cars. Knowing that you have the ability to plead down, or get away with it contributes to the continuance of this very problem. What’s there to be afraid of?
In a perfect world, it would be much different. In a functional Criminal Justice system, there would be strict sanctions for first time offenders. No bartering, no way around it. First time offenders would serve a minimum of 1 year in jail, pay $10,000.00 in fines, lose their license to drive for a year, must actively participate in a year’s worth of counseling and AA classes, and volunteer with Mother’s against drunk driving for a year but it wouldn’t stop there.
I couldn’t stop there. I would need some shock value attached.
Each and every weekend for one year the accused would be attending funerals. Every weekend for one year that violator would have to seek and find a funeral home where a family morns the loss of a loved one due to the tragedy involving a drunk driver. This person will sit with the family and witness their loss.
When the year is up, before I release the individual to 3 years of probation, I would impose two more sanctions.
The state I.D. they would have to obtain for identification purposes (since their license has been taken) would arrive in the mail with a large red circle embedded on it. Wherever and whenever it was required from that moment until they re-obtained a license, it would tell the world what they did and what they are capable of doing.
Finally, each and every Friday, for the rest of their lives if their offense resulted in the death of an innocent person, they would be writing a check to the family. One dollar, each and every Friday for the rest of their lives. This is what you would get for your first offense. Imagine what I’d do if you were in my court a second time.
I could never let offenders walk away without the responsibility of letting the family of the innocent know that this drunk driver is allowed to forget what they’ve done. It’s not about the money. It’s about remembering the pain you’ve caused.
Those who lose someone never forget.
Why, in the name of God, should we let the offender?