By Anakaren Garcia
It’s the middle of the night and you’re woken up from banging on the front door. It's the police; they've come to deliver the news that someone very close to you was killed in a car accident because they decided to drive home while drunk.
Or imagine you're told that someone you love was killed by a drunk driver that lost control of their car.
Or maybe you're woken up by the sound of your phone vibrating; it's a loved one calling you from jail, telling you they were arrested for drunk driving and they're asking you to go bail them out because no one else will answer their call.
These are the realities of drunk driving.
According to the American Addiction Center website, alcohol can have a number of impacts on the brain and those results vary by how often or how heavily you drink.
The occasional or moderate drinker can experience blackouts and recklessness but the heavy, excessive drinker can experience memory loss, loss of attention span and will have the
“inability to think abstractly,”
according to the AAC. With one or two alcoholic drinks, a person can begin to feel more talkative, wanting to socialize more and more. But going past those two drinks is where a person can begin to have problems thinking straight or having memory of what is happening or has happened, according to the Psychology Today.
According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, in 2017, 25,619 people were arrested for impaired driving in Washington state and an average of 149 people die every summer from impaired driving.
In 2017, Kittitas County alone had a total of 16 serious injuries, four of which consisted of a drunk driver being involved. Now, that may not seem like a large number, but that’s four lives who were either injured or lost at the hands of either their or someone else’s decisions.
Drunk Driving Perspectives:
It's commonly known that drinking and driving isn’t the best idea, right?
“I knew I shouldn’t have been drinking and driving because every time I would go out, I wouldn’t be driving,” says 24-year-old Juan Cedeno, a fork-lift drive at Condan Fruit House in Yakima.
“But there would be some times that I wouldn’t have a ride so I would risk it.”
Mark*, a 34-year-old U.S. Army veteran, says that before getting his DUIs he didn’t care about drinking and driving being a problem. When he came back from two deployments in Iraq, he felt like no one could touch him and he was living life recklessly.
Just because you don’t personally drink and drive doesn’t mean it’s not out there in the world, let alone close enough to harm a family member.
“I always heard about accidents happening regarding situations like that and never really thought it will ever happen to us," says 26-year-old Lenika Gonzalez Tapia, a teller at HAPO Community Credit Union in Yakima. "I always thought people were really ignorant and selfish for drinking and driving. After having to live that situation I still cannot believe how selfish people are for doing that.”
Could it be that sometimes people only think about themselves when they're drinking and driving?
They don’t think about all the other lives that they could affect if something bad were to happen? People have been to jail for DUI arrests, people have lost their loved ones from these kinds of accidents. And not only that but the first responders that are called to the scene of these accidents have also been affected.
“February 18, 2018 … I got a call from one of my aunts … asking if I had talked to my mom already. I said, ‘No, she should be in church,'" recalls Gonzalez. "She said Rafa, my stepdad, and Santi, my nephew, were in a car accident. They were taken to the hospital but they did not want to give information [about] my mom. I got to the hospital in less than 10 minutes,” says Gonzalez. Her mother was also in the car.
Gonzalez and her family were led into a private room shortly after they all arrived but didn't receive any information about the whereabouts of their mother. The doctor warned Gonzalez, her sister and brother-in-law that they needed to be strong and prepared for the condition her nephew, Santi, were in.
Gonzalez’s brother-in-law began having trouble breathing after seeing the condition his son was in. They quickly moved him to another room and when Gonzalez was about to enter the room to visit her nephew, she noticed a sheriff approach some of her cousins.
“I was at the door when I see my cousin crying and my brother-in-law says, ‘Mi suerga fallecio [my mother-in-law died],’" she says. "At that moment I went crazy. [I] cried and screamed my lungs out. I was hitting the walls, trying to see where they had her, asking God why,”
A drunk driver was going over 100 mph in a 35-mph zone when he crashed into them. Gonzalez says she found it hard to have to tell her oldest brother bout the news because he lived in Mexico and hadn’t seen their mom for about 16 years. Gonzalez’s older brother requested that their mother not be buried in the U.S., but sent to Mexico so that he can see her one last time.
“One other hard thing was not being able to see her until three days after. That Monday ... I had to pick the casket [and] the flowers. I broke down again," she recalls. "Tuesday, I took the clothes she would be wearing to the funeral home and [went] over [flight] details."
She continues, "Wednesday the 20th we were finalizing the paperwork for the flight when they told me she was ready and we could finally see her. I was able to do her hair and makeup one last time like she would ask me to do. That day was another heartbreaking moment. The day I knew I had lost my whole life. The day I knew [there] was not one way to bring her alive."
According to Gonzalez, the drunk driver responsible for this tragedy is someone she went to school with and knew to an extent. He was arrested and incarcerated immediately following the accident. He had numerous court dates where he continued to not plead guilty and he is out on bond currently since mid-2018. Gonzalez says they’re hoping to close the case in May 2019.
Cedeno says he was arrested for drinking and driving when he hit his friends parked car. “I ended up going to a friend’s house for a barbecue and then another friend showed up with a bottle of tequila, then everybody started saying, ‘Shots! Shots!’" he says. “At the end I just remember blacking out and when I woke up is when I crashed. I hit my friends parked car. The neighbors called the cops. I woke up in city [jail].”
Cedeno says that his family was affected by his accident both financially and mentally, and that they were “thinking,
'What if I would’ve killed myself or someone?'”
Mark says he’s received two DUIs in his life. The first one was in Arizona, where he was initially pulled over for going 70 mph in a 40-mph zone. His second DUI was in Washington state. He recalls that he hadn’t drank alcohol for about three months before getting arrested, and that it was his friend’s birthday party and they decided to go out to eat and take birthday shots. Starting at one place led to bar-hopping. He was initially pulled over for going 65 mph on Yakima Ave, which is a 25-mph zone.
Mark says that his parents had no knowledge about his first DUI, but when he got his second one, they didn’t know where he was and they couldn’t get ahold of him until they finally decided to call the Yakima County Jail and found out what had happened. He says his parents cried when they saw him walking out of jail. He’s spent roughly $30,000 combined on both DUIs.
They Feel, Too:
Do you ever stop to think about the first responders, officers or firefighters who are called to the scene of these drunk driving collisions?
Lieutenant Liliana Causor, a 30-year-old firefighter at Cowiche Fire Department, says that seeing fatalities and seeing families crying for their loved ones who were killed in these kinds of accidents are the hardest part of her job.
“Seeing these accidents has affected me in a way that I do not drink and drive,” says Lieutenant Causor. “The hardest part, mentally, would be at the end of the call knowing how to cope with [it].”
37-year-old Ellensburg Police Officer Ryan Potter says, “Each officer processes what they see on scene in different ways. For me, the first bad collision I had stuck with me, and still sticks with me, because it was the first time I had been exposed to it as a new officer and a young adult."
Officer Potter adds, "As time goes on, you become ‘numb’ to it and just learn to cope. As an officer, you are expected to do your job, even in the harshest of situations. Although what you may see or experience in the moment is horrible and difficult to see, we as officers must push through and deal with our emotions after the situation has concluded.”
What can be worse, according to Officer Potter, is seeing the aftermath of the event. “These collisions, depending on the severity, can sometimes be very disturbing to see because of injuries sustained by those involved. … It makes you realize how vulnerable we all are to people that are driving while impaired,” he says.
“There are images in my head that will never go away from scenes that I’ve witnessed.”
So, Why Do It?:
Why are people so willing to risk their lives and the lives of others when they drink and drive? Is it because they don’t want to leave their car wherever it is or because they have too much pride?
“A lot of people think they are good enough to drive and some pay the price,"
Lieutenant Causor says. “I have asked drunk drivers, 'Why did you decide to drive?' and most of the answers ... are, 'I didn’t want my friends to think I couldn’t hang with them.'”
Officer Potter says, “Many people may not want to bother a friend, family member or loved one because they don’t want to get looked at as irresponsible for not planning ahead.”
In 2017, Cheap Car Insurance conducted a survey of 1,000 people and found that 51 percent of the women surveyed are able to drink one alcoholic beverage and drive home, where only 23 percent of the men surveyed are able to drive home after one drink. But getting three drinks in, 24 percent of the men say they’re still able to drive home where the women count goes down to 10 percent. Four percent of women and nine percent of men who took this survey said they wouldn’t even have one drink and drive after.
In this day and age people have their smart phones to help them with almost anything, right? Right.
Before heading out to the bars, have a plan and a back-up plan for getting home safely. In Ellensburg, there are currently three taxi-cab services: Radio Town Taxi, AA Express Taxi and K.C. Cab. And on top of that there’s also online car services like Uber and Lyft. Or, simply make sure you or your group of friends have a designated sober driver that will be in charge of getting you and everyone else home safely.
And in case you already have a plan and a back-up plan but you want to limit yourself on your drinking for the night, Get Drunk Not Fat is a website that allows you to enter your preferred alcoholic drink, gender, weight, how many drinks you plan on drinking and the length of time you plan on drinking. Once you’ve submitted this information, you’ll be given your blood alcohol level, the level of drunkenness you’ll be at and how many calories and carbs you have consumed.
Word to the Wise:
“All I can say is, put yourself in that situation. What if you were the victim of these cases? What if you were the one to die? If you had kids would you like to leave them alone? Would you like your parents to suffer? You have no right to take an innocent’s life for your dumb actions,” says Gonzalez.
“Stop and think about the consequences of drinking and driving. Look at what could happen. You could kill or seriously injure someone's family member all because you wanted to have a good time and drive home,” says Lieutenant Causor. “You would be pissed off at another person for drinking and driving and killing or seriously injuring one of your family members, so what makes you think it’s okay for you to do the same?”
“Please, I beg anyone reading this, don’t drive impaired by alcohol or drugs. It’s not worth your life or anyone else’s,”
says Officer Potter.
People can advise you so much to not take part in these types of actions. People can tell you their stories of losing loved ones or tell you stories about them being arrested. But whether you choose to listen and take the advice is entirely up to you.
I and the PULSE team just ask you to think about all the lives you can wrongfully impact by getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.
August 28, 2011
It was 1:45 a.m. I was laying on the floor of my bedroom; my cousin was talking on the phone. I heard screams and crying but I didn’t think anything of it. I thought I was just dreaming--that was until my cousin woke me up to tell me she heard my mom crying or, better yet, screaming.
I immediately lifted myself off the floor and ran out of my room. I saw my sister and mom sitting on the couch, then I saw one of my sister’s friends sitting next to them, then I saw a sheriff standing quietly with the door wide open. At this time my niece was six years old and she was nowhere in sight. I immediately thought something happened to her.
I asked what was going on. I can’t remember who said it, but someone said, “Guero [my brother] was in a car crash.” My first thought was, “Okay, so are we going to the hospital or going to go see him?”
I remember my sister looking me dead in the eyes and I blacked out. I didn’t faint, but, in the moment, I must have blacked out when they told me my brother was killed on impact because when I finally came to, I was on another couch with my head buried into it crying uncontrollably.
I remember not feeling sad. I know how that sounds, but I think mentally, I was too in much shock to really process what I was told. I kept thinking to myself, “This isn’t true, it’s not real, Guero’s going to come into this room any minute, or he’ll call us letting us know he’s safe.” But as the minutes turned into hours and our living room became a headquarters for grieving family and friends, it became more and more real. I only cried when people wanted to hug me or tell me that they were sorry for my loss. But aside from that I was in denial and refused to believe what was going on.
It was probably 4 or 5 a.m. now and our house was in full swing, people filling the room with awkward silence and sorry eyes. There were three people in our immediate family who didn’t know what had happened: my six-year-old niece, my four-year-old brother and my dad. Both my niece and brother were fast asleep; my dad was too, probably.
My dad had been living in California for about a month for work when this happened. I didn’t know who was going to break the news to my him, or when, or how. Logically I knew it had to be my mom. And then it was time, my dad would be waking up soon to get ready to go to work. When my mom dialed his number, she seemed calm and collected, but the moment my dad answered I just remember her eyes water up, her voice cracking and no words coming out other than, “Mijo… Guero… tuvo accidente.” My Godfather, who was a Yakima Police Officer at the time, took control of the situation and he was the one who told my dad what happened to my brother.
After the conversation ended, we waited until my little brother woke up and when he did, he walked out to the living room, saw everyone looking at him and went straight to my mom. He asked her what was going on and my mom explained to him that Guero was in the sky with God and the angels. He asked when he would be coming back and my mom said, “He’s not coming back because that’s where he’s going to live now.” After that, it felt like a never-ending cycle of hugging and “I’m sorry’s.”
My dad finally came back home after a day or two of finding out the news. That’s when it felt like time had stopped. I had never in my life seen my dad cry, and to finally see him cry broke my heart even more.
After this, time sped up. I had to go back to school the following week and start my sophomore year of high school. We were able to say our personal goodbyes to my brother; we allowed his closest friends and my uncles to say their goodbyes. We then had his viewing, casket closed, then his funeral. Our home was no longer a madhouse. It was then that it all finally hit me and I could cry uncontrollably and scream if I wanted, and I did. My head never hurt so much.
Weeks later, I found out what the cause of death was. My brother was drunk and had driven into a HOPS garbage truck. Well, those garbage trucks have spikes in the back and it turns out that my brother drove straight into those spikes, killing him on impact. And for that I’m thankful, because he didn’t have to suffer in his death.
*Name changed for privacy