Drink, Drive, and Go to Prison with the “Big Boys”

From my journal dated March 2, 2003:

This past Thursday was the omnibus hearing. What an awful time for this hearing to be set, with March 3rd right around the corner. It was an uneventful hearing, but we had decided that we really want to be involved and aware of what’s going on in the legal process concerning the accident. We just can’t ignore the legal stuff going on; that wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be fair to Jason.

The most sobering thing was watching the 25 prisoners come in for their own hearings – dressed in their red or blue jumpsuits with a chain around their waist and hands linked by another chain to the waist chain. It was sobering for me to realize that J.H.*, the cocky, good looking, 19-year old who killed Jason and Alina, would probably be one of those prisoners one day. He may very well be the “new meat on the block” soon. So few of them even had anyone in the courtroom as support. It was a scary sight.

J.H., his parents and attorney weren’t in the courtroom yet when the prisoners came in, although we saw him in the lobby when we came in. I’m sure it would have been an eye-opening experience had they been there. J.H. has been acting so arrogant and cocky at every hearing, so condescending when he looks at the Christianson’s or us. I turned to Jenna after the prisoners were seated and said, “If I were J.H. and saw that, it would scare the literal hell out of me!” I’m sure this was not what he bargained for when he and his friends started out partying the night of March 2, 2002…or, in the early hours of the morning on March 3, 2002, when he got behind the wheel of his friend’s car drunk and barreled down the road over twice the speed limit. He didn’t think of the consequences of his actions – that he could kill people and might be going to prison with the “big boys” as a result of his choices.

We met with the prosecutor after the hearing. She said she will probably be meeting with J.H.’s attorney later in the week for “negotiations.” She thinks he’ll try to get the charges lowered so J.H. can get off without jail/prison time. If he continues to plead not guilty, she’ll use the next hearing to amend the charges and add an additional vehicular homicide charge [J.H. had initially been charged with only one vehicular homicide charge – for the deaths of two people].

Jenna commented to me after the hearing that [the family in our homeschool group whose son was hit by a train] doesn’t have to deal with the legal stuff on top of their grief. She said all of the legal stuff brings everything back up. We have to live it all over again…and over again…and over again. It rips the scabs off and everything is fresh all over again.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

“Is anyone in here against drunk driving?!”

From my journal dated February 24, 2003:

I had a very unsettling thing happen today.

I’ve been trying to figure out what to do to mark the first anniversary coming up on March 3rd. I wanted to to something meaningful to honor Jason. I decided to take the poem Jason had written, “The Return,” and print it on cards to send out to family and friends. I took the poem to the printer a couple of days ago, and they called today to ask me to come in and okay the proof before they actually print it.

I went to the print shop and was looking at the proof when someone came in the door behind me. I was just minding my own business, trying not to cry at the significance of what I was doing, and didn’t even look up to see who it was or notice why the young man was there. As he burst through the door, the young man enthusiastically yelled, “Is anyone in here against drunk driving??” A kid behind the counter (not the person helping me) piped up and yelled enthusiastically in return, “I’m all FOR drunk driving!!” and then they started laughing hilariously.

I couldn’t believe my ears! I turned and looked at the kid behind the counter square in the eyes and said, “That’s not even funny. A drunk driver killed my son.”

I know he is young. I know he was just being flip and trying to be funny, but it was not funny! Drunk driving is not funny – it kills people!!! I was shaking so much I could hardly sign my name to okay the proof. He waited until I was done, and then came over to apologize.

I realize he didn’t have any clue about Jason. What were the odds of me, the mother of a child killed by a drunk driver, being right there right then? But it really shook me. Such a casual and celebratory attitude toward drunk driving, something that has indelibly changed our lives forever!

Who knows? Maybe I planted a seed in his mind that will make him think twice before driving drunk or allowing his friends to get behind the wheel drunk. Maybe it was one of those “divine appointment” things that could make a difference in his life. I don’t know. I hope his mother never has to grieve the death of her son because of drunk driving. I wish no mother ever did.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Don’t Drink and Drive

I’ve often thought that if I had a chance to speak to high schoolers on the subject of drinking and driving, I would ask them if they realized going to jail or prison (if over the age of 18) could be the end result to a night of partying should they choose to drink and drive.

We’ve all seen the stories or videos of simulated accidents portrayed to students in a drunk driving “scared straight” program. Simulated accidents or “grim reapers” try to impact students with the possible outcomes of driving drunk. I wonder how many of them include information or speakers about the possibility of prison time.

The young man (18 years old and a high school senior) who hit Jason and Alina had a “bad boy” reputation at school and with the local police. I’m sure none of it prepared him for going to prison with the big boys, though. Under Washington State’s “three strikes” law, had the charges of two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of felony hit and run stood, he could have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Talk about being scared straight!

J.H.*, in a plea bargain, pleaded guilty to the two counts of vehicular homicide. The felony hit and run was reduced to a misdemeanor in order to avoid the three strikes law. At 19 years old, he was sentenced to four years in prison for the vehicular homicide counts and one year in jail for the hit and run. He served 2 2/3 years in prison, and the judge waived the jail time.

I hope, with all my heart, J.H. has taken the opportunity in front of him to make good choices with his life. We have all paid high prices for his bad choices.

From my journal dated January 10, 2003:

I found out recently that an acquaintance’s recent “non-driving” status/ability is because of a DUI drivers license suspension after wrecking his car. He was driving home drunk and ran into a telephone pole. He walked away just fine except for a few bumps and bruises, but it sure has put a crimp in his style. I know it’s frustrating and depressing for him. Embarrassing and expensive, too, I imagine. Fines, insurance rates go up, having to replace the totaled car.

But the whole crux of the matter is that it was his choice to drink and then drive. How could he choose to drive drunk after what happened to Jason and Alina?? I hope he’s at least learned something, or will stop and think before driving drunk again. If he’s too drunk to make good choices, someone just needs to take his keys away. He only hurt himself and his car this time, but he easily could have hurt or killed other people.

I’m sure J.H.* [the young man who hit and killed Jason and Alina] and his friends had no conception when they started partying and drinking the night of March 2, 2002 that their actions would end with the death of two great young people. I’m sure going to prison never even crossed their minds when they got into those cars drunk.

If drunk drivers only hurt themselves, that would be one thing. Their choices. Their actions. Their losses. But so many accidents caused by drunk drivers involve others – innocent bystanders – who pay the price while the drunk driver walks away. J.H. broadsided Jason and Alina and literally walked away.

Our price tag seems so much higher than J.H.’s. Sure, he and his family have to pay for a lawyer, and J.H. may do jail time for a few years. But our “sentence” – our price tag – is a “life sentence.” They have imposed a life sentence on us by their choices. For the rest of our lives, we are without Jason. Our lives are never going to be the same.

J.H. can bargain down his sentence, take a plea bargain, or serve a few years for vehicular homicide. But he at least has the opportunity to go on. If he chooses to, he can make a good life for himself, make better choices, marry, have a family. J.H. and his family will move past this because, once he gets through whatever the consequences are, he still has a life to live. He has to live with the fact that he killed two people, but the fact of the matter is that he still has a life.

Jason and Alina don’t. Their lives are over, taken by the hand and choices of another. We don’t have their precious lives or presence with us any more. We had no choice. Jason and Alina had no choice. By his choices, J.H. stole it from them, from us.

Jason and Alina weren’t doing anything wrong. They were making good choices. They made good choices that night. Movies at our house, kettle corn, sodas, laughing, joking. Fun. Enjoying each other’s company.

It seems that people who drink, drive, and then kill someone as a result deserve a more than a slap on the hand. There has to be some kind of accountability. There has to be something to stop this insanity. When will people who drink and drive realize their choices affect others?? Their choice to drink and drive kills.

We, who have done nothing wrong, are paying the price for these kids’ choices and stupidity. Jason and Alina have paid the ultimate price for the choices of J.H. and his friends. They paid the price with their lives. The cost just goes on and on. We pay in so many days every day, and we will continue to pay for the rest of our lives.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

The One Thing of Beauty in Each Day

“You cannot control the world outside, but you can choose what you will bring into yourself. If you do not see anything of value in your life, begin by finding one thing of beauty every day until it becomes a habit”. – Ron Rathbun

I love taking pictures of sunrises and sunsets. It’s a fascination my husband doesn’t quite understand.

As I sat on the beach the other day watching the sunrise, taking pictures, and listening to Dvořák’s New World Symphony, I acknowledged once again that I am looking for the one thing of beauty in each day.

It’s not that I don’t “see anything of value” in my life, but I think it helps me to purposefully look for that thing of beauty that encourages my heart. It could come from a multitude of things – a child’s smile, a good book, a poem, music. A beautiful sunrise.

It does not escape me that the most beautiful sunrises are when there are clouds.

I hate pat cliches, by the way. I don’t think they do a lot of good. As a bereaved parent, I found that it was easier for someone to quote a Scripture or cliche to me (or maybe “at” me) than to actually be there for me. I’m not trying to pass on an inspirational cliche that’s supposed to inspire others. It’s just a personal reflection of where I am and what I’m trying to do – look for the beauty in each new day.

I specifically remember the day, months after Jason died, I noticed how beautiful the flowers were that were blooming at the college. It amazed me at the time that I could actually notice and appreciate their beauty in spite of how deeply grieved I felt at Jason’s death. Especially since my state at the time was one more accurately expressed by W H Auden’s poem, “Funeral Blues”:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

I remember planting a huge variety of daffodils and crocuses at the crash site in the fall of 2002 because I wanted them to bloom the next spring. I planted yellow daffodils for Jason because he was my Mr. Sunshine. I planted purple crocuses for Alina because it was her favorite color. I wanted them to symbolize beauty growing from such ugly despair.

I will be the first to admit that it has not been an easy thing to do since Jason died, this looking for beauty in each day. But I am determined to keep on looking.

Our No-Fault Society

From my journal dated December 2, 2002:

Today was the arraignment of J.H.* [the drunk driver who killed Jason and Alina]. Between all of us representing the Carney’s and Christianson’s, we took up the entire front row of the courtroom.

He had on a great-looking suit, looked cocky and confident…almost defiant. His folks and girlfriend were there, too, all dressed up. Don’t they care that he shattered our lives?

J.H., of course, pleaded “not guilty.” The omnibus hearing is set for February 27, and the court call date is March 28. He went out the side door after the proceeding. Then the whole row of us got up and left. I think his folks were surprised there were so many of us there. They quickly and quietly went out the back door. I don’t know what else they could have done, I guess. This whole thing is just so surreal.

We were to meet with the deputy prosecutor in a conference room so she could explain the legal process to us.

Marie said something along the lines of “We’ve all Christians here. We’re all praying for him. Now we all know how to pray.” Quite honestly, I’m not praying for him at all right now. I don’t know if I ever will. I don’t feel anything for him – no rage, no revenge, nothing. My feelings toward him are just dead.

Neither Jason nor Alina were preachy in their lives about their beliefs or Christianity. The lived their lives as examples – and that speaks so much louder than words many times.

Marie and I had talked about giving pictures of Jason and Alina to the prosecutor. Marie asked her at one point if she’d ever seen our kids. She said that she’d only seen the black and white picture from the Seattle Times article.

Marie gave her a photo of Alina and I gave her one of Jason. She looked at them for a really long time. I thought she was going to cry. She definitely teared up. She gave them back to us and said thank you for showing them to her. She said that she couldn’t imagine what we were going through, that she was a mother herself.

The deputy prosecutor also said that his attorney has already tried to get a reduced sentence. He’ll probably spend less than five years in prison for the deaths of two excellent young adults if he serves anything at all. She also said that it sounds like he is a kid whose parents bailed him out of every scrape. He’d gotten mad once and peeled out of his girlfriend’s driveway, hitting another car. His dad came and paid off the other party. No consequence to J.H. at all. And she also said that she feels they might think they can bail him out of this somehow.

It just feels like our laws have so little bite to them, no consequences for actions. We live in a no-fault society – no-fault divorce, no-fault insurance, no-fault killing of two excellent young people. Our justice system is broken!! They have to file reduced charges just in hope of making something stick!! That’s just wrong!!!

Not Just a Formality

From my journal dated November 25, 2002:

The arraignment [of the person who killed Jason and Alina] is on Monday. The prosecutor said it’s just a formality; it should take only five minutes. She said we don’t have to be there.

I don’t really care if it ends up being a 5 minute deal. I feel like I really need to be there. I want to be at all of the hearings. I want to put a face to those who who died and to those who lost such a precious family member.

It’s not just a formality. It’s our precious son whose life was stolen by a drunk driver. It’s our lives that will never be the same because of someone else’s reckless actions. It’s our hearts that have been shattered because Jason died in a horrendous crash not of his own doing. We miss our boy so much. Anything concerning Jason is not just a formality to us.

Options vs. No Options

From my journal dated November 21, 2002:

Monday night a radio talk show host in Seattle discussed the charges filed in Jason’s and Alina’s accident. He felt that murder charges should be filed against a person who kills another with a vehicle, especially while driving drunk, instead of vehicular homicide charges. Murder charges would probably result in a 20 year range. Vehicular homicide charges will probably result in a 3-5 year range. Quite a disparity!

Would a higher incarceration range for convictions of vehicular homicide be a deterrent for drunk drivers?? I don’t know. Killing someone is killing someone, whether it’s accomplished with a gun or vehicle. I guess I don’t understand the huge difference in sentencing. It’s not like I am out for revenge. I don’t hate this kid. I’m not sure I know what I feel about him.

On the forum discussion page of the Herald.net site, in response to its article printed a few days ago, someone who knew Jason and Alina stated that this drunk driver had no idea how much he’d taken away from so many people.

Then someone who knew the driver’s family wrote about what a nice family they are, how J.H.* has to live with the grief the rest of his life.

I don’t know how someone even begins to deal with taking the life of another person; but, in my opinion, “grief” is the wrong word. “Regret,” maybe. But, grief – no! Not even his mother knows the extent of grief that Marie and I do. No matter how long he spends in jail, she still has her son. He’s still alive! There’s always room for something good to happen for him. He still has options and choices. It’s all up to him what he does with them.

Jason and Alina have none. No options; no choices. They were the ones making good choices with their lives…and now they’re gone. We have a huge loss forever. Nothing can change that. J.H.* killed our precious kids. He may lose some years in jail, but he’ll still be young when he gets out. He can can still make something good of his life.

Options vs. no options. Life vs. death.

I hope he starts making some better choices with his life. We’re paying the price for the choice he made to drive drunk at more than twice the speed limit. He has no idea how much his choice has cost us.