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Hate and Forgiveness in the Parking Lot

Who's the real bastard?

I hated the bastard.

The man was drunk when he pulled into our parking lot at about 3:15 p.m. Sept. 14. He hit the wrong pedal, accelerated over a parking stop, raced through 50 yards of grass, rolled over another parking stop and slammed into my wife’s parked Mitsubishi. The crash was so violent it pushed her SUV into the Oldsmobile Cutlass sitting next to it.

Of course, the driver didn’t stop. He put his car into reverse and coaxed it over to a spot on the other side of the lot—limping along with one wheel flat. He opened his trunk, grabbed a white plastic bag and tottered up to his own apartment.

He later told officers he planned to leave a note but didn’t because he was having dinner. The breath test would show a blood alcohol level of .162—twice the legal limit to drive.

I watched the officers handcuff him and help him into the squad car.

Oh, I hated that bastard.

Insurance assured the Mistubishi wasn’t a total loss. We received money to put toward a replacement car. Because officers caught the driver, his insurance even paid the deductible.

Still, buying a car was the last thing my wife and I wanted to do. We had only a few more payments on the SUV and looked forward to a couple years of owning the vehicle free and clear.

I cursed the drunken driver with each new dealership we visited. I swore at him through the test drives, sales pitches and negotiations. And then I seethed as my wife signed paperwork guaranteeing us five more years of car payments.

What a bastard.

Details about the events leading up to the crash came out with the police report a couple weeks afterward. The man had some drinks at —just two shots of vodka, he swore—then stopped by and headed home.

When I first saw him, he hobbled into the parking lot on a cane—the police officers who would arrest him ensuring that he didn’t pitch over. He had liver disease. His doctor told him not to drive, and his wife agreed.

Yet he left the bar, got behind the wheel and pulled into the parking lot at about the same time parents were pushing strollers to the bus stop to pick up their children. I was full of self-righteous anger as I told the story to friends and family.

What a thoughtless bastard.

My wife and I waited anxiously to hear what the man’s punishment would be. We’d crafted a victim’s impact statement encouraging the judge to really hammer him. He’d already gotten off easy, we noted. Prosecutors only charged him with drunken driving, not hit and run.

We learned the disposition just last week when a letter from the city of Minnetonka arrived. “City Attorney’s Office” it read, in case there was any doubt.

I unfolded the cream-colored paper to find a photocopied Nov. 1 obituary tucked inside. The three-sentence letter had all the explanation I needed: “The charges were dismissed due to the defendant’s death.”

When I logged on to the funeral home’s website to find more details, I stumbled across a guest book full of fond memories. Friends and family described golf outings and Saturday morning liar’s poker rituals. They described someone quick with a joke and willing to choke down ill-flavored food to avoid hurting feelings.

I knew the man from his mug shot. I knew he’d had some drinks downtown and then crashed into my wife’s car when he was twice as drunk as the law allowed. I knew the drunken driver. I knew the bastard.

But the guest book memories painted a picture of a man—a man more complex than the driver’s license details contained in the police report, a man who was more than one stupid mistake at the end of his life.

That’s when it hit me.

He wasn’t the only bastard.

Mary Ohm November 08, 2011 at 02:36 PM
Please don't be so hard on yourself. You had a right to your anger. I am glad, though, that you are able to put it in perspective instead of having to carry that anger forward.
Debbie Vold November 08, 2011 at 05:08 PM
Nicely written with a message we all need to hear. Thanks for all you do, James!
Mike Schoemer November 15, 2011 at 07:41 PM
Well done. It's simple to say "Judge not...lest ye be judged." It's another thing to act in that manner, especially with all of the things we see in our position.
Michael Hindin November 26, 2011 at 09:23 PM
I feel sad for the driver's family and friends. They put up with his loss and with his excessive drinking for a long time. Only a very experienced drunkard could walk away with a blood alcohol level that high. Excessive drinking may have been a factor in his untimely death. Just think what would have happened if that car was full of a family returning home from Thanksgiving with grandma. Drunk driving is a crime with many victims. You don't need to apologize to anyone for being angry at the results of horribly irresponsible dangerous behavior.
Tom Kouri December 20, 2011 at 02:37 PM
Great story James. A good topic and very well written!

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