June 23, 2012
A photograph in this newspaper a few days ago was powerful enough to bring tears. Five coffins, spread about 30 feet wide, were front and center.
Even if I used the best thesaurus the world has to offer, I would be unable to find the adjectives to describe the sadness and despair that the photo evoked in me.
But, my feelings can’t reach the depths of pain of the Gaines family. Authorities allege that a drunken driver, heading the wrong way down a highway, killed John Gaines Sr.’s wife of 50 years, a daughter and three grandchildren. Senseless. Foolish. A tragedy beyond the scope of imagination.
Closed in those five caskets (seven people eventually died) and buried forever are dreams, love letters, hugs, kisses, smiles, Christmas presents, proms, Father’s Day salutes, Mother’s Day celebrations, school events, fun at barbecues and crawfish boils, and a possible cure for cancer.
When I looked at the photo, I recalled the first bond —- $256,000 — placed on Brett Gerald, the alleged drunken-driving killer. It meant each of the five dead bodies came to about $51,200, or less than the cost of a nice luxury car.
Gerald, of Greensburg, was taken into a custody later after a sixth person had died, and the bond was set at $1 million, increasing the value of the dead to $166,666 or so.
Then when the seventh person died, their value dropped to about $142,856.
And there’s the tragic irony of the deadly car accident happening in an area near a town called Slaughter.
When will we ever get really serious about driving while drunk? If we really want to get serious, here are few suggestions:
Charge a person who drives drunk the same way a person arrested for firing a weapon into a crowd of people is charged.
The charges should be, at least, driving under the influence and attempted murder, whether someone is injured or not.
If a drunken driver kills someone, the charges should be at least DWI and first-degree murder, and the long sentences that go with a conviction should be imposed.
Folks who chose not to take a Breathalyzer test would automatically forfeit the right to possess a driver’s license until a trial is held on the charges.
Driving a car, while under DWI arrest, should mean an automatic minimum prison sentence of three years and five years forfeiture of a driver’s license and a $10,000 fine.
Of course these would be extreme measures. Some might say Draconian.
Do you think Gaines and the families of those here and across Louisiana care about tough measures on drunken drivers?
The Gaines family deaths brought the seriousness of drunken driving into our hearts and minds because there were so many deaths.
We usually just shake our heads about the occasional DWI-caused deaths or injuries.
There should be no more three DWIs before someone does serious prison time. District attorneys and lawmakers, do what you are supposed to do. Form legislation that will be swift and sure.
Or,just wait until some three-time-arrested drunken driver slams into a busload of children and you have to deal with the grief-stricken families.
It’s on you now.
Ed Pratt is a former editor for The Advocate and assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. He may be contacted at his email address: email@example.com.