Death by acceleration, alcohol and apathy

Almost every time I watch the evening news, I see pictures of smashed cars, burned out  vehicles, overturned 18-wheelers, and SUVs jammed under the rear of transport trucks. Often the newscaster says, “The police suspect alcohol and excess speed.”

The horrible television scenes take my mind back to the 1980s when I’d wake up periodically with a feeling of apprehension, almost a dream. I’d see a co-worker, I’ll name Joe, driving in a drunken stupor. In my mind he’d strike another vehicle and die in a flaming wreck.

Each morning when the premonition occurred, and often when it didn’t, I’d listen to the news for car crashes in Joe’s community. Hearing none, I could relax for the rest of the day.

At work, everyone liked Joe, but knew of his drinking and driving. He laughed at admonition; he could handle a car no matter how much he drank.

One day I arrived at work without experiencing the premonition or giving it a thought. I hadn’t even turned on the radio. Moist eyes and long faces met me with, “Have you heard?”

“Heard what?" I asked.

“Joe killed himself in a car crash last night. He had been drinking with a friend. They hit another car and burned to death. The couple in the other car got out with serious injury. Joe was such a great guy. We will miss him.”

I didn’t say a word, just marched into my cubicle almost overcome with anger. “Joe. A great guy?” I said to myself. “Well the great guy just killed himself and a friend and injured two others. How can anyone call him a great guy? I paced back and forth for a few moments thinking words not normally part of my vocabulary: “That great guy was nothing but a bloody fool.”

Later, I learned that the person who died with Joe left a wife and two kids. Thankfully, Joe had never married. Time passed and the ghost of Joe vanished from the office and my early-morning omens ceased. I have often asked myself why I got so angry. Did it happen because Joe, the great guy, proved himself a fool? Had he lived, surely the authorities would have charged him with manslaughter.

Maybe I became angry as a means of covering for my own sense of inadequacy and guilt. After all, I had known about Joe’s drinking and driving. Sure, I had spoken to him, but could I have done more? Should I have enlisted others to assist in convincing him to seek help, to get counselling, to face the truth about his lifestyle?

Should I have ratted on him, asking the police to lay for him and teach him a lesson? I had done so little, even after getting the early morning warnings. Had God sent me a message, intending me to intervene? I hadn’t even told Joe about the premonitions.

Maybe I responded with anger because society still allows people like Joe to drink and drive or speed until they die in flaming crashes. The mayor of Toronto opposes the purchase of a police helicopter, even though it would help eliminate deadly high-speed chases. A host of politicians oppose the reintroduction of photo radar, even though they remember, as I do, how greatly it reduced speeding on the 401. The courts still fail to apply maximum penalties for drunken driving, even though they daily see the destruction and gore played back on the evening news.

Maybe all of us should feel guilt for not intervening, for not supporting sensible legislation and, maybe, for not always using common sense ourselves.

Ray Wiseman