The Drunk Driver Who Hit Me Got a Slap on the Wrist

6 years ago

On Monday the drunk driver who hit me a few months ago -- earlier in my pregnancy -- pleaded guilty to two of the five charges filed against her. She pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors: driving drunk (OVI, or operating a vehicle impaired) and for failure to maintain distance between my vehicle.

The two most serious felony charges -- underage drinking and possession of drug paraphernalia, which could have simply been beer bottles in the car -- were dismissed as part of the plea deal. The one other misdemeanor charge -- having a high alcohol content -- was also dismissed.

So what did the judge feel this girl owes society for her irresponsibility?

No jail time. Actually, she was going to get 180 days in jail, but 177 days were dismissed and she'll spend the remaining three days receiving mandated treatment in a program for drunk drivers in an effort to resolve any issues that motivated her to drive drunk. Ironically, I spent exactly three days after the accident in a prison of my own, on military quarters in my hotel room, separated from family, dependent on others for food, all while frozen with whiplash. But I digress...

Her license is suspended, but she's allowed to drive to work and back.

So I had no part at all in this process. This case was the State of Ohio versus this young lady. Both Martin and I submitted victim impact statements, detailing what life has been like for us since the incident and expressing our hopes for this driver's future, but ultimately, it was up to the judge to determine what was just in the eyes of the law.

I admit, I expected more.

When it comes to a senseless crime like this -- one that is so reckless, so preventable and so rooted in selfishness -- I am of the "by the book" variety. I think every relevant charge should apply and held to the letter of the law. No plea deals. No dismissals. When it comes to drunk driving, I think there is no excuse to not hold someone completely accountable.

But obviously, I'm not the judge in this case. I'm just the random woman who was in the vehicle that got in her way; yet another person who has had to pay physically, emotionally and financially for another's stupidity.

Just last week, my good friend Gary's 21-year-old son Devin, was riding his bike on his way home from his job as an actor at a local Renaissance fair in Wisconsin. A teenager with poor vision, who wasn't wearing her glasses as required by her license, was driving her car along that same road when she decided to answer her cell phone at the same time. As she paid attention to her cell phone -- and not the road -- she slammed into Devin on his bike. Despite her windshield being crushed and caved in, it didn't dawn on her to stop immediately. According to reports, she didn't even realize what she'd done, and she didn't stop and call for help until miles down the road. By the time help got to Devin, it was too late. Last week, Gary and his wife Ruth had to bury their boy.

A blogger friend of mine, Heather Johnson, was 19-years-old and driving home from nursing school in 2003 when an inattentive teenager blew thru a red light and T-boned Heather's car. In a split second -- and at no fault of her own -- Heather was permanently paralyzed from the neck down. That day was the last day Heather was able to move her hands and legs. She is now dependent on others to care for her, and while she now blogs -- using specialized equipment -- with a positive spirit buoyed by a loving and supportive family, she also writes honestly about those quiet moments when the gravity of everything she lost momentarily pulls her down again.

In comparison, my suffering pales.

The most frightening aspects of my experience with this drunk driver are the things that could have happened. I could have lost my unborn son, but I didn't. I could have been paralyzed had my vertebrae snapped instead of rotated, but I wasn't. I can't lose sight that in the grand scheme of things, we got off lucky. The baby kept kicking and growing and will be here in a few weeks. I am both walking and breathing.

I am grateful for that.

But I am also disappointed. From what I know of this girl, I don't think this is going to change the path she's heading. I don't feel like she's surrounded by the right people who will support more positive life changes. My hope is that I'm wrong. My fear is that I'm not ... and that there may be a next time.

Water lily blooming in dark waters.

But alas, she's been told by the law what she owes for her crimes, and that's it.

If she didn't already have a strong moral compass -- or the sense to follow it -- the law isn't going to put one there for her.

Ultimately, there is nothing that will change what happened to me. There is no length of time, community service or price she can pay that will erase the months of pain, stress and fear I've experienced so far, in addition to the things that lie ahead for me related to this. (It's already been determined that I will have to resume physical therapy after the birth, too.)

Likewise, there is nothing the driver in Wisconsin can do that will bring back Devin, or erase the anguish and pain from his parents' hearts and souls. And there is nothing that will restore Heather's ability to use her body on her own. Yet, Gary, Ruth and Heather have been humbling examples of forgiveness, compassion and hope for me. I owe it to them to continue their example.

I owe it to my family to be a present mom and wife. I owe it to myself not to focus on what this one evening did to me; instead, I realize and appreciate the goodness I do have in my life.

Being hit by this drunk driver has slowed me down, but it hasn't stopped me from doing the things I love with the people I love.

And so we move on.

Originally posted on Julie and Martin

Julie recently spoke at the BlogHer '11 conference in San Diego as a Write Brain: Essential Blog Content Development panelist. You can find her spending way too much time on Twitter.

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