Several years ago I interviewed a young man who was serving a four and one-half month sentence at the Shelby County Penal Farm for vehicular homicide. The interview was done inside the Penal Farm, right after he’d begun his sentence.
I waited until now to share this powerful story because of the nature of the crime and the pain that still remains for the families involved.
I informed the young man ahead of time that I would hold nothing back with my questions. He agreed and was even enthusiastic to meet with me.
I’ve decided to change the names of those involved because they aren’t important to the story itself. What is important, and what we hope to make clear, is this: If you drink, and you decide to drive, someone could die. And then profoundly affect countless lives of those left behind.
The setting was a football game tailgate. He was driving when the accident occurred. The victim was one of his best friends, riding in his car. His girlfriend, the mother of his child, was critically injured.
Thankfully, the occupants in the car he collided with were relatively unhurt.
The accident was completely his fault. The death was tragic, and preventable. Here is part one of the interview.
How are you doing?
I’m hanging in there; trying to stay positive. It’s up and down, back and forth.
What happened on that Sunday afternoon?
My company was tailgating for some clients at the game, first game of the season. I decided to go down early and help out, help set up. Obviously there were drinks there to entertain. Mostly beer; some liquor.
What time did you get there?
I got there around 10 in the morning. I immediately found where they were and started drinking.
What time did Marcia and Kelli get there?
They got there I’d say around noon.
Did you have tickets to the game?
We never had tickets to the game. Sometimes we’d go in at halftime.
Who decided to get in the car and go somewhere else?
That was a group decision. There wasn’t a lot of people left at the tailgate. It was near the end of the game and we decided to get more beer.
If you had to guess how much you had to drink that day, what would you guess? How drunk were you?
I was pretty drunk.
Do you know what you registered on the breathalyzer?
I believe it was a 0.14 or a 0.16.
What do you remember about the accident? What happened?
I don’t remember much about the accident itself. Just waking up.
What’s the first thing you remember after waking up?
The first thing I remember was that it was really hot, and people were standing around. The first thing I did was grab Marcia. I pulled her into the middle of the front seat. It was just instinctive.
Where was she?
She was in the back seat against the passenger window. I think she was still passed out.
Do you remember thinking, “Oh my God, I’ve been in a terrible wreck,” or anything like that?
No, well, I mean I realized I was in a wreck, but it didn’t really register then how terrible the wreck really was.
Was Marcia talking at this point?
No, she was just in pain, not really talking.
Where was Kelli?
She was in the middle next to Marcia.
When you saw her did you realize how badly she was hurt?
I didn’t realize it, no. I think honestly that I just thought she was still knocked out.
Were the police there at that time?
What did you do? Did you call the police? Did someone else call the police?
Someone else called the police. I just drug Marcia out and was just talking to her.
Who got there first, the police or the ambulance?
I would say the police.
What did they say to you?
They just pulled me away from her and just threw me in the back of the cop car. They just stuffed me in and dealt with the situation.
Were you able to be with Marcia when the ambulance arrived or when they drove away with her?
No, I was still in the back of the cop car.
When did they give you the breathalyzer?
After they had taken Marcia away.
So they asked if you’d been drinking and you said yes. They put the cuffs on you and gave you the breathalyzer. What was all that like?
It was just horrible, you know. I just didn’t really believe, I mean I didn’t realize what had just happened. I didn’t know Kelli had died. I just knew Marcia was severely injured, you know. I knew I was in trouble.
What happened after the breathalyzer was administered?
They told me what I had registered. They took me back to the cop car. They read me my rights and told me I was under arrest for DUI.
When did they tell you Kelli had died?
Not long after they gave me the breathalyzer.
What did that do to you? We’re talking about something that most people cannot comprehend. You lived it. What was that moment like when you realized you were the drunk driver of a car and a girl was dead? And not just a girl, but you and your girlfriend’s best friend. And your girlfriend was critically injured. What was that moment like when the police said to you, “Kelli’s dead”? (He became very teary-eyed here and took a long time to answer.)
I just immediately started crying.
Rick Jacobs is a regular columnist for the Express. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.