I-1183 just can’t guarantee against more teen fatalities

THE OLYMPIANOctober 30, 2011 

The general election ballot stared up at me from the kitchen table. I’d made my choices, except on Initiative 1183. Did I want to privatize liquor sales and take the risk that gas stations and corner stores will get around the poorly worded initiative and start selling the hard stuff to who-knows-who in the wee hours?

In my deliberations, I remembered that as a parent of four children who all survived their teen years, I feel lucky. When I read stories about teenagers killed in car crashes, I try to imagine those other parents’ pain.

One of the worst nights of any parent’s life is the first time your child gets into a car driven by someone else. They might be just going to a movie or on a first “car date,” but it could be the last time you see them alive.

At least, that is your greatest fear. Because, until that moment, you’ve had control of their safety on the road. You always drove them to the show or to someone else’s house.

It was 1 a.m. many years ago when our oldest daughter came home one Friday night. We weren’t alarmed at the late hour; she was 17 and it was a special occasion.

When she came through the door, however, we knew something was wrong. We all stared at each other.

“We had a car accident,” she said.

And then, as it often happens in tragedies, information that she would otherwise never share, suddenly flowed quickly and matter-of-factly: where they got the booze, where they drank it, how he had a fight with her about driving, the jolt, the fear.

We listened about how the police came, about how he was charged with a DUI. How all they hit was a pole in a parking lot. How nobody was seriously hurt.

When the story and the crying and the hugging were over, the only surprise was that nobody was surprised. She went off to bed badly shaken and bruised. She was a girl on the verge of adulthood, but still a girl. A girl like a million other girls, except that she was our girl, and that made her precious.

The next day there were lectures and quiet talks, phone calls to the other parents and a plan to leave $20 under a rock outside our front door, so she could take a taxi home next time. I spent lot of time just looking at her and thinking, “she could have been gone.”

Most of all, I remember thinking how I could have been a teen drunken driving statistic myself. Chances are that you and I both have teenage drinking histories we’d rather not talk about, especially with our kids. We know what goes on.

I struggled for a while with the hypocrisy of talking to my kids about the dangers of “show-off” drivers and drinking drivers. But then I read somewhere that underage drinking kills 6.5 times more teens than all other illicit drugs combined.

I got over my feelings of duplicity quite easily because I never wanted to see a policeman come to my door. I wanted to keep seeing my children’s faces.

That’s why I picked up my pencil and marked “no” on I-1183.


You can support Thurston County youth by attending the Big Brothers Big Sisters annual fundraiser next Saturday, Nov. 5, at Great Wolf Lodge … If you want to simply scare somebody, there is the Monstrous Treats & Treasure event in Downtown Olympia beginning at 2.30 p.m. Monday, and the Haunted Halloween Downtown Tour continues today and tomorrow, too. The Capital Christian Center in Lacey is having a Trunk or Treat event at 6.30 tomorrow in their parking lot. Personally, I like the name of “Nightmare on Yelm Street,” which takes place at the Spiral Café in Yelm at 3 p.m. today … I should have mentioned that all eight Rotary clubs in the Olympia area help stage the Cool Jazz Clean Water wine tasting event: 7-10 p.m., Nov. 19 at the Washington Center.

George Le Masurier, publisher of The Olympian, can be reached at 360-357-0206 or glemasurier@theolympian.com

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