Impaired Thinking

Society still takes an approach with drunk drivers that's much too lenient.

I'd like to meet Sarah Flores some day. I hear she's a great kid. Funny and smart. Real outgoing. Likes sports. But I don't know if I'll ever have the pleasure, because as I write this, Sarah is lying in a bed at University Medical Center in critical condition.

The 16-year-old Tumacácori resident was on her way home from playing sports at Rio Rico High when the car she was driving was struck head-on by an SUV--being driven on the wrong side of the road by a woman who police believe was drunk. Sarah was airlifted to UMC, where she underwent surgery for chest trauma and internal injuries. Apparently, during one surgical procedure, doctors tried to repair damage to her liver, which had been all but cut in half by the seatbelt she as wearing. But, when the doctors went in, her other organs were swollen so badly from the impact, they had to close her up and hope to go back in later after things got marginally better.

I didn't read about it in the local papers, maybe because it was south of town or maybe because it wasn't sexy enough by today's newspaper standards. Drunk driving doesn't get much play these days unless the driver is a washed-up singer that most of us never really liked in the first place, or unless four or five kids die all at once because the driver was high and acting extra stupid. Even in the latter case, all you get is a grisly shot of the mangled car on the front page one day, then some stereotypical reaction shots of grieving friends the next. After that, it's back to the business of telling us that it's pollen season or covering the burning issue of condom machines at recreation centers.

Despite the progress made over the past two decades, progress spurred on by groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Driving Drunk, Americans are still being slaughtered on a daily basis by unthinking beasts whose own petty urges are somehow more important than the lives of human beings. Drunk-driving deaths are coming down, but not nearly fast enough. Alcohol and drug use by drivers still account for more fatalities than fatigue, cell-phone use, rubber-necking, smoking, changing the CD and all the rest of the stuff.

I learned about Sarah from a kid named DeeDee who plays on my basketball team. DeeDee used to live in Rio Rico and has been friends with Sarah for years. Understandably, DeeDee is devastated.

Earlier in the school year, DeeDee told me about how she and some other kids had helped a friend of theirs try to sober up in a hurry--and then tried to conceal the incident from adults.

I asked DeeDee whether she thought that having helped that kid try to sober up was really a noble pursuit, especially in light of what happened to Sarah. She struggled with it for a moment and then said that the two weren't the same thing because the aforementioned kid wasn't driving.

I got the same thing last fall when I argued in print against legalizing marijuana. All kinds of people wrote me to paint this rosy picture of the professional adult coming home from a hard day's work, putting on some Coltrane, firing up a joint and just kicking back. But that's not how it happens. They may put on some Coltrane and fire up the joint, but then they get hungry and get in their car to go get some Twinkies. All these letter writers would talk about how they were "responsible" drug users, but when I would e-mail them back and ask whether they had ever driven while high and/or drunk, they apparently forgot how to use the computer, because I never heard back from them.

If every person who drank alcohol to excess did so in their own living rooms, where they could get sloshed, pass out and soil themselves from at least two different directions, that would be fine. But these vermin insist on engaging in self-degradation and surrounding themselves with 3,000 pounds of metal and going out in search of lives to ruin.

On the plus side, drunk driving is no longer something that is met with a wink and a smile. Many states have backed away from the ridiculous notion of diminished capacity, in which a drunk driver would receive less punishment because he was drunk. They've lowered the blood-alcohol level at which a person can be declared legally drunk. But there is so much more to do.

For one, we have to eliminate the insane use of the word "accident" in news reports, articles and even conversations about crimes committed by drunks behind the wheel. It's not an accident. It's a crime that's absolutely certain to happen sooner or later.

(To her credit, Patti Lewis, writing in the Nogales International--a Wick publication, like The Weekly--properly referred to what happened as "a two-car crash.") That's what it is: a crash, a collision, a crime. There's nothing accidental about it.

I don't ever want to read another article about some "good person who made a mistake." It's no mistake. The alleged drunk who was behind the wheel, 54-year-old Marjorie Ritter of Rio Rico, was booked into the Santa Cruz County Detention Center. (At the time of this writing, she was still being held on $50,000 bond.)

Ritter's husband was in the SUV with her and had to be hospitalized with facial injuries. I don't feel sorry for his punk ass, either. He had to have either known she was drunk or perhaps have been even drunker than his wife. Either way, he shouldn't have allowed her behind the wheel. (As is all too often the case, Ritter, the drunk driver, was unhurt.)

By the time this hits the stands, we'll probably know Sarah's fate. Meanwhile, Marjorie Ritter will be eating county food and undoubtedly expressing her remorse. The unfairness of it all makes me want to scream.

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