There are no winners...
A 20-year-old resident of Connecticut was speeding one morning around 3 a.m. - coming home from a bar - when his car rolled over, his female passenger ejected from the sunroof.
Neither were wearing seat belts.
He was driving so fast he lost control of his car. He had also been drinking - his blood alcohol level was later tested, and it was found to be about .130.
The passenger was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Less than one year later, the driver was brought before a Superior Court judge and sentenced to a 10-year prison term, suspended after two years, and five years on probation.
As a condition of probation, he was ordered to undergo alcohol evaluation and treatment, perform 100 hours of community service, and use an ignition interlock device, which screens for alcohol use, on any vehicle he drives.
On the day of his manslaughter sentencing, the judge spoke about how tragic this case was. "The courtroom today is filled with sadness,” the judge said. "It is a crime, an awful crime with truly tragic results.”
Sadly, this type of case is not uncommon.
Based on data from 2006 to 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that alcohol is a factor in the deaths of 4,358 young people under age 21 every year.
This includes 1,580 deaths from motor vehicle crashes.
Every year in courtrooms in Connecticut and throughout the nation, you will see this unfortunate and tragic situation playing out.
As a crime reporter, I wrote about sentencing hearings like this one and was always struck by how senseless and sad these cases were. A really bad mistake involving alcohol ruined the lives of two families.
I would often think that if teens had to watch a sentencing hearing like this, they might think more seriously about drinking and driving or driving recklessly.
No one is a winner in these cases.
You see the family of the dead or injured person on one side. On the other side, you see the family of the friend who caused the accident.
They sit on opposite sides of the courtroom. Most of the time, the parents of the dead or injured person have a hard time forgiving and often ask the judge to sentence the driver to prison.
In this particular case, the family of the victim did not ask for prison, although the prosecutor did push for prison time.
At the hearing, the father of the victim spoke touchingly about his daughter, bringing the courtroom to tears. He recalled two police officers coming to his door. "In unison, both men bowed their heads," he said. "My whole world fell apart."
Just before the driver was sentenced, his lawyer spoke about how he was already in prison. He was “in a prison of his own making,” the lawyer said.
In the end, the prosecutor in that case said she was pleased the driver went to prison. ”Drunk driving is very serious and I was very happy the court took the case so seriously,” the prosecutor said. ”Offenders who drink and drive should know they are going to be punished this severely.” This same seriousness can apply to "buzzed driving" as well.
What Parents Can Do...
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), parents can try to set a good example for their kids, so this type of tragedy never happens to them.
The NIAAA suggests parents talk to their children about the dangers of drinking, drink responsibly themselves, and serve as positive role models.
They should also not make alcohol available, get to know their children’s friends, and have regular conversations about life. Other recommendations from the NIAAA are that parents supervise parties to make sure there is no alcohol and they should encourage their children to take part in activities that do not include alcohol.
Driver's Ed and New Drivers...
The United States has taken a firm stand against driving under the influence. In the State of Connecticut, it is a requirement that all new drivers attend a drug and alcohol education class. Both programs offered by The Next Street, the Full Driver Education Program and the 8 Hour Safe Driving Course, include this class and approach the topic in an informative and effective manner. Sure, we want new drivers to get their license quickly and easily, but it's our responsibility to make sure that they're ready for the responsibilities that accompany that license.