June 29, 2001 was like any other summer day. My husband had a business outing, my two sons were up at the crack of noon and went to work, my daughter was gone at summer camp, and I had my usual housework and errands to run. After work, my 16-year old son was going with a friend to hang out at another friends house. My husband and I went to dinner, had a couple of drinks, and on the way home stopped at a neighbor's house, had a couple more drinks, and were home by 11 P.M.
Curfew for the boys was midnight. They both made it home on time. My husband and I were sleeping by then but as was customary, the boys checked in with us, letting us know they were home. My 16-year old had a friend that was spending the night. They were going to watch a movie in the basement recreation room.
At 4:30 A.M. the phone woke us up; my husband answered it. It was the hospital. They informed him that our son had been in an auto accident and was in the emergency room, and we needed to there immediately. We thought they were mistaken because he had checked in already. We checked his room and found it empty. His friend and my older son were sleeping in the basement, but there was not sign of my 16-year old. His truck was gone. We put on some clothes and rushed out the door.
Less than half a mile from our house we came upon the crash site. Police cars with lights flashing were everywhere. We saw our son's truck, barely recognizable, with the entire right front end pushed into the cab. We pulled over next to the other vehicle, which was upside down, smoldering and being worked on by firefighters. There was a blanket covering the driver's side. I will never forget what I saw that morning.
As we pulled over, a police officer quickly came toward us telling us to move along. We identified ourselves and he confirmed that our son was in the emergency room and told us to proceed to the hospital. We asked about the other driver, and the officer told us that he was dead. The five-mile ride to the hospital seemed to take forever. We didn't know what we would find there. I was crying and shaking. My husband was in shock - he kept saying over and over, "the other man is dead?!"
Before I go on, I will tell you a little about my son. He was a sophomore in high school, an honor roll student who loved to play sports. He played soccer, football, track, and was good at all of them. His room was full of trophies and ribbons. He's a good-looking kid who got along with most everyone. He held a part time job scooping ice cream. He loved little kids and was good with them, too. He had plans for going to a big name university and was well on his way. He knew right from wrong, had good manners (outside the home anyway, and had no previous involvement with law enforcement. He didn't even have a traffic ticket.
We arrived at the hospital and went into the emergency room. Before we got to his room, we could hear him screaming. We rushed into the room and his face was still covered in blood. His femur bone was protruding through his jeans and the artery in his leg was damaged. His arm was broken and had nerve damage, as well. He had not received any pain medication, yet. The smell of alcohol was obvious and strong. He started to cry and apologize when we approached him. He did not know, yet, about the man he had killed. We later found out that our son's blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.18, over two times the legal limit.
Doctors, nurses and police swarmed the room. Police were asking questions, asking for blood and urine, asking our son to sign forms. My husband called a lawyer and upon his advice, my son refused blood and urine samples. The police took them anyway saying that they had a right to take them. I was angry, confused, sad and most of all, scared.
Surgery took eight hours. My son was in intensive care for two days. He had lost a lot of blood and the titanium rods put in his femur and humerus bones increased the risk of life threatening blood clots. Nurses tended to him around the clock. He was put in the pediatric unit for three more days. The day he was to be released to go home, the police informed us that he was being arrested and put in jail unless we posted $50,000 for his $500,000 bond. By the Grace of God, we were able to borrow the money from our local bank and keep him out of jail, take him home and continue caring for him.
We started to piece together the story. His friend had acquired the beer from someone of legal age. They went to a girl's house to drink it. The girl was my son's girlfriend. The mother of the girl was home and allowed a group of teens to drink at her house that evening in their basement and around their pool. They each had six beers at the house and came home at midnight. Unknown to us, they continued to drink in our house. My son got a call from his girlfriend and he sneaked out of the house and returned there at about 1:30 A.M. The beer ran out. The mother broke out a bottle or orange vodka to keep the party alive. They were now sitting in the kitchen drinking with the mother and her friend, also an adult.
He left the party about 3 A.M. He got home again, but a couple of girls walking around the neighborhood called him on his cell phone and asked if he would drive them home. He did. He never made it home a third time. And a 37-year old husband never made it to work that day, either.
While in the hospital, my son was visited by the minister of the deceased's church. He told us about the man. He was a good husband, father, son, and friend. My husband attended the memorial service. The minister came to our house a few days later and gave him a video of the service to share with our son and me. It tears my heart out to think that a wife lost her husband, three kids under age nine lost their dad, a dad lost his son and an employer lost their employee as a result of my son's drunk driving accident. I cannot imagine what it must be like for them.
I do know that for my son and my family, life will never be the same. After almost a year of physical therapy, doctors, psychologists, insurance companies, medical bills, lawyers, newspaper articles, court hearings, sentencing, etc., my son wanted it all to end. He attempted suicide once by trying to hang himself with an extension cord in the back yard on a tree. He wanted the uncertainty about his future to end.
Fed up with the uncertainty and the hiding being continuances in the courtroom, my son pled guilty to reckless homicide without a trial, without a plea bargain. He put his fate in the hands of God and a fair judge. The state asked for 8-12 years in state prison. The judge sentenced him to 365 days in county jail, to be served during summers and weekends while he finished his high school. Four years of intense probation requires that he be in the house each evening at 7 P.M. and the probation officer stops by every evening. He has community service of 200 hours, to be served at the local food bank, and he speaks with AAIM (Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists) at Impact Panels, trying to reach out to others that think they can drink and drive. He also speaks at high schools attempting to let kids like him know that they are not invincible.
His junior year in school was almost impossible for him and our family to bear. His grades went down and he dropped or didn't finish many classes. He could not focus and could not sleep at night, constantly waking with nightmares. He can't play sports anymore. He can't even go to football games on Friday nights. Instead, he checks into jail for the weekend. No homecoming, no senior trip, no prom and so on.
I am sharing this story because like a lot of parents out there, I used to think kids will be kids and adults will act responsibly. I wasn't naíve I knew my teenager, who was in with the popular crowd, went to parties now and then. He knew right from wrong - he had lost his vehicle for a few weeks for having it at a party, not even driving it just a few months before. At that party the parents took the keys and he was trying to get them back. That's when we showed up. He knew he could call us anytime, anywhere, with no questions asked for a ride home if he was ever in that situation. In retrospect, that message was wrong for our son mistakenly took that as a license to drink, and to drink too much. So, what message are we trying to give our children? That it's OK to drink if there's a consenting adult around because they will know better? I hope my story shows you this message has a dangerous assumption to it. Not all adults are responsible enough to take the keys away or call the parents.
This past summer, rather than holding down a summer job, my son was in jail. He slept on a mat on the floor in an overcrowded county jail. We were allowed to visit for 30 minutes per week, speaking to him on a jail phone, talking through Plexiglas. We could not even touch. It was painful on both sides of the glass. Somehow, he endured. He no longer takes for granted being alive, having a family, having a meal on the table at night and clean clothes to wear. He is grateful for every day. And, I am grateful for getting my son back.
My son lost a year of his life but another man lost the rest of his life. A wife lost her soul mate, three children lost their dad, a father lost his son, a best friend lost theirs, and humanity lost a good man. My life and my family's life is forever impacted as well.
My son takes full responsibility for his actions and is owning-up to the consequences as best that this young adult, now 18, can. Today, he is abstinent from all drugs and alcohol and is trying to have a positive impact on the people around him. His message to adolescents and young adults is simple and straightforward.
- Don't drink and drive.
- It happened to me and can happen to you.
- No one is invincible.
Kids will be kids. But the operative word is kids, and we parents still must look out for them. Know where your kids are. If it's Friday or Saturday night and you think your kid is with the "in-crowd," have a talk with him or her, every weekend if you must. Kids have short memories when it comes to rules. They need to be reminded often of the rules that count. Remind them of my son's story. Remind yourself of my story.
- A Mom's Story