Monday, March 19, 2012

One mother grieves for another

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.


  1. hi Mari,
    I'm actually from the Lowell, MA area, and me and my husband were in RI this past weekend. We saw a wrestling show and ended up at a casino pushing our luck till 330am, which is WAY to late for us to be out! It was St. Patty's day, and the only drink him and I had had was at 4:30pm at our late lunch. him a black and tan, me a dirty martini. that was it. we went to our show, and the casino, sipping on Pepsi. I can only thank God that we left later than we did, because, even though we were on the other side of the high way, we may have been involved in the accident, or seen it. We passed it on the way home. it was as you said, horrific. one car was thrown up and half over the medium in the middle of the high way. tears came to my eyes, I prayed right then and there for those involved... I agree with you, Corey Johnston did kill your former co-worker. And I too hope RI takes a good hard look at thier laws. And I hope people take a look at this senseless act and maybe smarten up...

  2. Thank you for this post! My sentiments exactly! I've heard a rumor that the most this kid will get is 10 years...I'm waiting/researching to see if this is indeed the truth. We will do right by Dom by making sure the punishment for crimes like this is dealt with severely.

  3. Thank you for this post. I am also an old friend of Dom' older sister was his first love and I can't think about my childhood without memories of Domenic. My sentiments exactly on the laws... I am not sure what the possible punishment would be for Corey Johnston, but I heard a rumor it is 10 years max. As we learn more about the accident the facts will come out for sure and we can really take a good look at the our states DUI/DWI laws. Dom can rest in peace knowing that friends and family will do right by him...especially if it means changing the laws.

  4. Domenic was an amazing human being and a dear old friend I was about to re-connect with upon moving back to Rhode Island, his senseless death should have been avoided. Thank you for your words. May his soul find eternal peace.

  5. jesus, Corey's had a rough life...My unending condolences to the Izzi family. WG

  6. I am a life long friend of Domenic and his family, and this was a gentleman beyond words can describe. The loss I feel will take me forever to mend my heart felt sorrow. I can only say his parents raised a son to be proud of in many ways . I hope they celebrate the wonderfull person he was and the numerous people's lives he touched.

  7. Thank you all for reading and commenting. Domenic's family and friends are in my thoughts, as I understand his funeral is today. I hope that after he is laid to rest, the state will take a hard look at its DUI laws. California charges such incidents as second degree murder; their statute is a model for new legislation in other parts of the US as well.

    For those who are curious, Wikipedia provides a long but incomplete list of DUI laws around the world. I am partial to New Zealand's, Italy's and Norway's approach, to name a few. Here's the link:
    Drunk Driving Laws Around the World

  8. The Mr. Johnston in question is my roommate. Or, as it stands now, my former roommate. I live in Mission Hill in Boston, where he and five other housemates of mine attend theschool of the museum of fine arts. (I attend Mass. College of Pharmacy right next door). Although I am in no way condoning what Corey did, I do feel obligated to vouch for his good qualities as a person, which I assure you he has in spades. Corey is one of the most genuinely friendly and kind people I haveever had the good fortune of knowing. He never kept his car with him up in Boston. This all happened while he was on spring break and sadly if he had chosen to remain in boston for his vacation, none of this would have materialized. I have not been able to talk to corey since what happened and seeing as his bail is set at 25k, I probably won't see him for years, as he will no doubt have to serve some time. I just wanted to make sure people were aware that he is a good person who made a mistake. I think that is something that is too often overlooked in situations like these.

  9. Thank you for reading and taking the time to write. I am sure many of Mr. Johnston's friends share your bewilderment and disappointment.
    However, I think it's vital to note that he did NOT "make a mistake.". He committed a criminal act. A felony that cost another person his life.

  10. I have also known Corey his whole life and was completely shocked and dissapointed to here about this tragedy. I have known his family a long time and they are well liked in the community, no one has anything bad to say about the family..they are good people. Having said that, I am on the side of the victim, it was murder and it was sensless.. The only way to stop this from happening is to have car breathalyzer ignition systems on all cars. It's sad to think this is the only way to stop this type of behavior but it would protect our loved ones from this type of tragedy going forward.. My condolences to the victims family...

  11. Interesting idea. I wonder if the car breathalyzer is easy to fool and that's why we don't see them everywhere. Seems like an economical solution to me.

  12. I knew Corey casually, some years ago. We Played on the same baseball team in middle-school, etc. I think too often, People are quick to snap-judge and demonize a person, once they've done something like this. There is little doubt in my mind that Mr. Johnston is suffering in the wake of this tragedy. As he now has this man's death, on his conscience. What he did was a terrible thing. But why, I wonder, is everyone so eager for a second life to be destroyed? Why is it that punishment is seen as the only viable option. God forbid a conscientiousness concerted effort to rehabilitate/heal a person. Or maybe treatment. My thoughts are with all parties involved, may they find peace and healing.

  13. @ anonymous: Thank you for reading and commenting. In my view, this is a murder case. Therefore, the defendant, if convicted, should pay his debt to society just like any other murderer.

    I'm cautiously optimistic that this case, with its egregious facts, will inspire legislatures to take a fresh look at drunk driving laws. Getting so sloshed that you careen down an interstate in the wrong direction should be charged as attempted murder, and if, as in this case, a death result, it should be second degree murder, pure and simple. None of this DUI nonsense.

  14. Corey and I were great friends growing up, and to this day we're on good terms. I can't stop wondering what will become of him. I still have no words for the severity of this event, its too surreal. How can i find out how to contact him, or what's going on with his case? Whenever I try to investigate I'm overcome with sorrow. My condolences to the Izzi family.

  15. Does anyone know what the sentence ended up being for Corey?

    1. An important question, thank you. I don't, and a quick Google search didn't return a result. Will try to find out and post to this thread.

  16. if you go to this website and type in the defendants name it will show you when the next court date is

    I believe it is coming up quick and I think it's the sentencing date.everyone should show up and show support in person.

  17. Corey got 4 yrs. 15 with 11 suspended and 3 yrs home confinement.

  18. Thank you Mari, for stating so precisely that this was NOT an accident...Corey chose to drive drunk...his passenger chose to ride with the driver drunk. He was alert enough to start his father's car and drive off. He showed no remorse at any time....
    I can tell you this, Domenic was an awesome human being that the world lost! Many, many people miss him terribly, and still to this day speak of him with so much respect and love.
    It doesn't surprise me that no one has posted a reply since the last post stating Corey's sentence! Are people surprised that his sentence was so lenient? I assume so! Check with other states.....RI needs to step up and see that a true punishment with a stiffer sentence may be a deterrent!
    Dom will always be missed

  19. Domenic, my brother, is still missed every minute of every day. Thanks for the original article, Mari.

    1. Hi LoAnn, I am glad you approve of the piece, and again, I am so very sorry for your loss.

  20. words can explain how much my family wants Donnie back!