Settling for Less --A drunk driver collided with our family car. Here's what I learned.
Thursday, August 20, 1998
On Monday, July 27, 1998, I was scheduled to testify in a drunk driving case at the courthouse in Monterey. The CHP officer was there and I was there. We were ready and eager to testify. We waited downstairs to be called to tell what happened. The CHP officer was the officer in charge at the scene of a car crash and subsequent drunk driving arrest in December of 1997. We had waited almost eight months and through several delays to get to the point of testifying. We sat there, sharing our perceptions of what happened that night and the different possible courses of action in cases like this.
Around 9:45am, the DA shows up downstairs. I stand and am ready to go tell my story. He says, "We settled." "We settled?" I parrot. "We won," he says. What did we win? Well, she got 120 days; a $1,250 fine, five years probation, six months suspended license and restitution. The CHP officer and the DA are beaming.
The bad guy (woman in this case) was caught, prosecuted, and found guilty and adequately sentenced. She did not "get off light." I shake their hands, thank them for a job well done and leave. It''s over. But, it''s not over. Something''s not right. I have waited eight months to tell this story...to her. You see, her car crash was with me and my 2-year-old baby, Cooper. What do you mean I do not get to testify? I have wanted to face you and tell you the ramifications of your behavior.
At 7:45pm on a December night last year, I was heading out of Carmel Valley Road with Cooper to pick up his 10-year-old sister, Claire, at youth group. We were singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" when the crash occurred. My wife had suggested that I take her car, a Volvo station wagon, that night instead of my small pick-up truck. It saved our lives while losing its.
The sheer terror my child with the swollen purple face felt was incredible. He had been correctly buckled in a child safety seat in the backseat of a Volvo wagon, and the impact was so great as to snap his face forward against a well-padded restraining bar. My child screamed in terror nonstop that night. He discussed this crash nightly for months and months. He was terrified to get in the car. He went to a baby psychologist, while I went to innumerable doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions of my own. We created re-learning games about sirens, police, fire, ambulances.
Once when a neighbor had dialed 911 because her father had fallen, the fire department and ambulance showed up near our house, creating terror for our son. For months, every siren, every blue uniform brought terror. Our evening father/son ritual of going for a ride to the store together went by the wayside.
For a long time out of the blue, my baby would shout out, "No go, car broke Poppa" in this pathetic, pleading voice. Afraid of more terror. Unable to trust that cars can be safe.
The woman who caused this wreck blew .17 in the breathalyzer of the CHP. That''s over double the legal limit.
What this experience has taught me is that there is more to DUIs than fines. There''s a human cost that''s way beyond what can be plea-bargained. As a liberal, I''m used to forgiving people for their transgressions, but I find forgiveness in the realm of drunk driving one of the ultimate challenges.
Never get behind the wheel of a car if you''ve been drinking.
Michael Keresey is a self-employed father of five who lives in Carmel Valley.