I consider myself to be a pretty compassionate person. I am the kind of person who believes in second chances, that rehabilitation is possible and that people who’ve failed can turn their lives around. However, I am also a big believer in personal accountability. You must own up to your mistakes, not simply try to bury them. I also believe that while leniency and common sense should prevail, there are consequences to our actions. The case of this young 16-year old that drove recklessly and killed four people does not live up to any measure of justice or personal responsibility. This teenager was sentenced to serve out x-amount of time in a rehabilitation facility in California, which his father (rightfully so) is paying for (in addition to ten-or-so years of probation). This young man has apparently had prior “incidents” where drinking and driving were involved. While I certainly believe that an intervention and rehab are important (and necessary) for this young man, I do not think justice was served to the families of the victims this boy killed. It’s true that no sentence for this young man would bring back any of the deceased. However, what does this say about the consequences for drinking and driving? What kind of example/precedent are we trying to set here? Why isn’t this young man being held accountable for his choice to drink and drive? If he had been an adult male, they would’ve thrown the book at him. This young man believed himself to be an adult. He made a conscious choice to drink and another choice to get behind the wheel of a vehicle.
My position is this: if you choose to engage in an “adult” activity, you are responsible for the consequences of said decision. There was a tragic loss of life in this instance and it’s a real shame. Undoubtedly, sending this teen to prison would be yet another loss of life as well. However, the victims no longer have a chance at life, period. Perhaps this young man’s life wouldn’t have been as fulfilling if he had to serve jail time. But, it was HIS choice and as such, he should be responsible for the fallout. It really gets under my skin that because this boy’s father can buy his son out of trouble, he is given a slap on the wrist for something that many of us would’ve been shown no mercy for. Had he been from the “other side of the tracks” (i.e. poor or a minority), he would be behind bars as we speak. I feel somewhat torn over this particular case. On one hand, I’ve had to stop myself numerous times from referring to him as a “boy.” In fact, I concede that I have used the term “young man” throughout. As someone who studied psychology in college, I do know that teenager’s minds are not fully developed at this age. Discernment has yet to be fully shaped and teenagers also have this invincibility illusion where they truly believe that nothing bad can happen to them. This type of thinking is exactly the reason why teenagers shouldn’t engage in drinking at all, much less attempting to drive somewhere while under the influence of alcohol. It’s not that they don’t understand the concept of right and wrong; it’s simply that they don’t believe that negative consequences will directly affect them and their lives. That is, until after it does. Such is the case here.
Having said all of that, I still believe that the punishment was too light and had a lot to do with money. Where do we draw the line with these young people? How much bad behavior do we write off as normal teenage thinking and reasoning before we start applying adult consequences to their actions? Is the act of plowing down 4 innocent people on a sidewalk enough to elicit a harsher sentence? I think so, I really do. As much as I understand about the way the mind works, there HAS to be a reaction on our part. Actually, we should really be proactive and try to keep things like this from happening, period. But once we reach this place, we have no choice but to react. And it has to be enough to make other teenagers think twice before committing this same act with tragic results. If we stand by and do nothing (or not much of anything), we are going to create entitled adults who believe they are “untouchable.” Again, what kind of message do we need to send to young kids? Telling them not to drink is just not enough anymore; they are obviously not being reached at this level. We need something more. We need to figure out how we can take measures to change the thinking of these young people before more lives are lost.
I sincerely hope that part of this boy’s probation will include having to talk to other kids at schools and other awareness seminars. I also hope that he feels remorse for his actions and understands how his selfish needs have forever changed the lives of the victims’ families. No matter what action has been taken in this case, I’m sure we can all agree that such senseless acts need to be addressed (again). As parents, we need to teach our children that while we are able to make decisions for ourselves, the things we choose to do can also affect others and often times, in absolutely tragic ways. My heart goes out to the families that were devastated by this young man’s lack of judgment. Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen more done in this case, especially where prior, similar acts were committed. I hope that the judge who passed this sentence down is able to reconcile this decision and it doesn’t torment them for some time to come. And yet, in a way, I do hope the judge endures some sleepless nights over this. I’m not so sure that they would’ve acted so dismissively had this been a family member of their own. Let’s keep everyone involved in this tragic incident in our thoughts and prayers. And please, please let’s talk to our children and all children/teenagers. It is our responsibility to convey how drinking and driving is not a game. Lives are forever changed when this decision is made. This is what we all need to take away from this.