April 19, 2012
Neighbors heard a loud crash, a sound unique to a car hitting something it shouldn’t. On this suburban Rochester road, a small car had crossed a ditch, coming to rest wrapped around a telephone pole. The metal-on-wood sounds stopped for just a moment, a brief silence, then the sound of fire. Screams from the car were heard by neighbors, but the fire was too hot, too vicious, for them to help.
By the time police and fire crews arrived, the 19-year-old inside had died from his injuries induced by his drunken driving. Police guess he went off the road after he fell asleep from the large amounts of alcohol pumping through his veins. At 6 a.m., he was on his way to work with a blood alcohol limit still two times the legal limit. His parents, still asleep, had no idea what had happened to their son.
“He was my only son,” his mother said, holding back tears and speaking with the silent strength reserved only for a grieving mother. “He was my only child and now he’s my angel.”
An angel, she said, who had graduated from high school but a month earlier. An angel who had a contagious smile. An angel whose loyalty on and off the athletic field was revered. But an angel who is now gone, because of drunken driving.
A week later, I stood beside her as 100 friends poured into a parking lot near Lake Ontario to say goodbye to the young man. Three-hundred black, yellow and white balloons floated into the sky as the sun set with vivacious colors, each balloon sending a message of love and sorrow to a new angel. As his mother told her son how much she loved him, she released one single red balloon, a symbol of her heart now being in the sky, dancing with the angels.
All deaths leave a hole in life that can never be filled, replaced or narrowed. The hole of grief is a gaping one, made only sharper by unnecessary loss. Drunk driving deaths don’t have to happen. That’s a hole that doesn’t have to be left empty.
Maybe that’s why things like the Every 15 Minutes program, at Fayetteville-Manlius High School, is so important for the young people in the community. A chance to show your decisions have consequences -- not just on yourself, or your victims, or your family, but instead on the whole community. At Thursday’s assembly, the somber look on rescue crews from Fayetteville and Manlius painted a poignant picture, only made worse by parent’s’ grief as they confirmed that yes, that was their child on the pavement. Not breathing, not graduating from high school, not growing up and getting married or anything else. He was dead, a victim of drunken driving.
Voices hushed and students placed a hand over their mouth as their classmates were wheeled from the fictitious scene on stretchers and a helicopter came to rush another to help quicker.
While Thursday’s scene was fake, the scenario is real. It’s a real consequence, based on real decisions that teens are making everyday. Hopefully they realize that.