Could you handle it?

Published 4:50 pm Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Again this year we will read of incredible loss and sorrow caused by those who stupidly decide to drink and then drive. They’ve heard all the tragic news stories. They know that drunk drivers cost Kentuckians not only hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages but also the injury to and loss of their loved ones.

But I suspect many of them think, “Who me? Why, I can handle it.”

My only child, my 29-year old son, was a beautiful young man, in looks and in his heart. He never met a stranger and was always quick to be of service to others. He was a blessing to me from the moment I first learned he was growing within my body until the early morning I kissed his lifeless body goodbye.

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Rick and his fiancé were killed by a man who thought he could handle it. After all, it was only bourbon and cola and he always drank that when driving late at night. He said it kept him awake. He said he could handle it.

But I believe today that man would ask, “Can you handle it? Really? Could you handle the sight of a burning wreck knowing that you caused it? Could you handle the horrific cries of a person being consumed by flames? Could you handle the smell of burning human flesh? Could you handle knowing that you caused another human being such agony and suffering and that you caused never-ending sorrow for his or her loved ones?”

My son’s fiancé was killed upon impact. He struggled to live for 112 days in intensive care at a burn unit with burns over 95% of his beautiful body.

The police at the scene (in another state) forgot to test the truck driver for substance abuse, precluding felony charges. The man pled guilty to two counts of misdemeanor negligent homicide and was sentenced to two years of probation, 300 hours of community service in emergency rooms, and a $1,500 fine. He retained his driver’s license.

Was justice served? Should he have been sent to prison for x-number of years? What would that have accomplished?

The only just punishment would have been for that driver to be at the hospital and watch as my son’s mummy-like bandages were changed twice a day, each time taking about two hours. Perhaps then he could realize the extent of suffering he caused my son.

I fully understand wanting to severely punish the drunk drivers who have taken innocent lives and brought incomparable grief to their families. But, I cannot agree with making their punishments cut and dried. Each situation requires consideration of all the circumstances involved.

Is justice served by levying the same punishment on the repeat offender as is meted out to the careless and perhaps infrequent drinker? Were weather or road conditions involved? Had the drunk driver been out binge drinking or was their blood alcohol level just over the limit of being legally drunk?

Can we find the compassion within ourselves to understand that the driver’s life was also changed forever?

Shock probation, or a probated sentence to begin with, seems appropriate in some cases. But such leniency should not be considered for the unrepentant driver with multiple drunken driving convictions. One implacable law is not reasonable. Leave those decisions in the hands of the judges involved.

I urge everyone who is reading this to think twice — no, more times than that. Think, for God’s sake!

If you must drink alcoholic beverages, then don’t drive. Don’t you be the one to inflict pain and suffering on anyone else. Don’t let a friend drink and drive. Help to make others aware and take responsibility for their actions.

Help MADD in their tireless efforts to lower the death toll on Kentucky’s highways. Make a commitment not to drink and drive. In doing so, you will make our highways a safer place for us all.