A former colleague of mine was killed by a drunk driver over the weekend. It was a senseless, hideous crash that should never have happened.
The basic facts are not in dispute. Rhode Island State Police received reports of a car traveling south in the northbound lane of I95 in Providence. By the time they caught up with the driver, he had (unsurprisingly) collided head on into a vehicle traveling in the correct, northbound direction. My old co-worker, Domenic A. Izzi, Jr., the "correct direction driver," was pronounced dead at the scene. He was 40.
His killer was arraigned this morning. Prosecutors charged 24-year-old Corey A. Johnston with driving while intoxicated, death resulting, driving to endanger, death resulting, and leaving the scene of an accident. Mr. Johnston (also unsurprisingly) was intoxicated at the time of the crash. Not my opinion. He submitted to blood work.
I have no idea if Mr. Johnston has prior scuffles with the law on his record. I don't know whether this is his first drunk driving offense. Frankly, I don't care. Rhode Island's criminal code allows a defendant convicted of the charges against Mr. Johnston to be incarcerated for up to fifteen years.
I hope the judge doles out the maximum.
And not because of my tenuous connection to the victim. I haven't seen Domenic in almost twenty years, and he was never a close friend. We kept up, now and then, on Facebook. We worked together at the Laborers' International Union the year I graduated from college. We bonded over our unusual demographics: I believe we were the only two employees under forty in the whole place.
I remember Domenic as a kid with an artist's soul struggling to fit into a pragmatic world. He seemed a gentle sort, a heart on his sleeve guy surrounded by saltier, grittier types. I know, from Facebook, that he'd become an accomplished photographer. He loved music, and had learned to make music fit in with his "day job." In short, he'd finally figured out who he was.
And then, crash.
Domenic's mother lost her only son in a tangle of metal on the pavement Saturday night, because Mr. Johnston behaved like an idiot. I can't imagine what Mrs. Izzi must be feeling. And I won't speculate.
I hope something good can come from this senseless tragedy. Maybe Rhode Island could re-evaluate its penalties for drunk driving. Because, as the law stands now, someone could get trashed, drive the wrong way on the highway, miraculously kill no one and still not go to jail.
I've never been a fan of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I think their tendency to urge tee-totaling is foolish, unrealistic and wholly misguided. I like to drink as much as the next person.
We don't need more laws about alcoholic beverages (see Prohibition). We need first offense DUI penalties with real teeth.
Had Mr. Johnston careened the wrong way down the highway and not injured another soul, he should still be removed from society for a spell of years. That's how it works in many Western countries, and shocker: they have fewer drunk drivers.
I don't know if Mr. Johnston got drunk on his own, or if he was served by someone else. If it's the latter, I hope Domenic's family sues the bejeezus out of the person who served Mr. Johnston the booze and let him stumble off to his car. Let's be real: even though the defendant's Blood Alcohol Content has yet to be published, reasonable minds can conclude he imbibed more than two beers (roughly the legal limit in RI). Sounds like wrongful death to me.
I hope this case makes restaurateurs more inclined to back up their servers when they decide a customer has had enough.
I hope it gives hosts at private parties the backbone to confiscate an intoxicated guest's keys. I've had to do that once in my adult life. It wasn't a pleasant interaction, but imagine if this guy had killed some innocent bystander with his car. Once I let someone drunk leave with her car, and while nothing happened that night, I kick myself every time I think of that evening.
Here's the newly refurbished, hard and fast Domenic Rule at my house: get as sloshed as you want, but don't think you're driving anywhere. Call a cab. Pass out on the patio. Try to navigate the T. You can retrieve your keys in the morning.
Think I'm being too tough?
Stop for a second and imagine your child's life snuffed out by a drunk driver, one whose host let him get behind the wheel.
Losing a child under any circumstances is horrific. Not to be wished on one's worst enemy. Losing one to murder (and I'm only speculating here) sounds more awful still.
Make no mistake. Mr. Johnston murdered my old friend Domenic, whether the law bestows a euphemistic name on his crime or not.
As it's foreseeable that if one plunges a knife into someone else, death may result, it's foreseeable that if one pilots a car down the wrong side of a divided highway, death may result.
I hope Domenic is in a better place. I hope Rhode Island and other states will consider far harsher DUI penalties because of his murder. Perhaps then his death wouldn't be so hopelessly senseless.