When the drunk driver is one of us

We were all kids once, and most of us did some crazy things; sometimes the life we envisioned is snuffed out by reckless abandon


We positioned the ambulance the best we could, small comfort when considering tractor trailers might or might not be able to avoid killing us all when they made the curve. Anti-freeze, oil and transmission fluid mixed with broken glass, all illuminated by a lone headlight that miraculously survived the crash.

"Rescue 1 to Fire Alarm, expedite police and a fire company for lights."

"Roger Rescue 1, location?"

"Rt. 95 South, high speed lane just past the Thurbers Avenue Curve."

"Received."

The kid was barely conscious, bleeding from multiple lacerations to the head, and elsewhere, I was certain. My focus was on keeping him breathing and us alive. Empty beer bottles that had been stashed under the front seat popped loose when the front of the car made contact with the Jersey barrier and littered the floor near his feet. I managed to pop the passenger side door; the driver’s door was pinned to the wall.

The ground shook as a tractor trailer sped past, narrowly missing the wreckage, followed by another, whipping highway dust in the air, stinging my face and covering me with grit.

Saturday at 3 a.m. is not the time to be stopped in the high speed lane of Route 95 in Providence, RI. The bars and nightclubs had closed; the stragglers were making their way home, most of them intoxicated and oblivious to the road ahead. A few cars fishtailed then righted themselves before speeding on. Others flew past us, the drivers gawking at us and not the road ahead.

We were all kids once

The state police arrived just as we extricated our victim, who emphatically slurred to us that he was an EMT and "on the list" for the next Providence Police Department Training Academy. With a DUI charge pending he's no longer on "the list."

Life's balance is easily tipped, sometimes through events beyond our control; things like illness or injury, economic hardship or just plain luck. Often we create our own misfortune, and find that the life we envisioned was snuffed out not by happenstance, but by reckless abandon.

We read about the drunk driver who killed his passengers, but miraculously lived, or hear about the driver who killed a young mother and her infant, and we judge, and condemn, and hope for justice to be served. The monster behind the wheel whose actions caused so much harm must be punished, and punished hard, we think, before moving on with our lives.

But what of the ones who make it home? Are they as guilty as the ones who didn't? What about you and me? Have we ever driven when we shouldn't have?

We were all kids once, and most of us did some crazy things, things like going to a club, drinking and dancing, and through the grace of God, or just plain luck, made it home unscathed. Are we also monsters, or are we just the lucky ones who get to be police officers, and EMT's, and nurses, teachers, accountants, business owners and laborers, and move on with our lives as respectable, law abiding citizens?

The kid was going to be a police officer and an EMT. His life is forever changed. He is on a different journey now, his dreams as broken as the glass crunching under my feet as we wheel him toward the ambulance.

When you drink and drive, you risk everything.

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