Sobering

Spent time today working on one of the most heart wrenching stories I’ve done — seeing both sides of a drunk-driving fatality and the torment this bad decision can create.

Notably, driver Caleb Pruitt wasn’t just drunk. A police report indicated he was “greatly impaired” by marijuana too.

In court, he told the family of Angie Burke he did “everything within his power in those last few seconds to avoid” hitting her. Clearly, he needed to do more. He needed to not have smoked pot at some point, split a bottle of wine with his girlfiend over dinner, then gotten behind the wheel of a Subaru. He needed to not have sped down Barbur Boulevard at an estimated 75 miles an hour.

He also said in court, he never imagined he’d be on this end of the spectrum.

Never imagined?

In 2005, he did the same thing, only he didn’t kill anyone that time.

He was picked up for a DUII, and took a diversion class to avoid a misdemeanor conviction on his record. Yes, the kind of diversion class that force feeds you horrific images of fatal crashes caused by drunk drivers. Like visual shock therapy. The kind of class in which emergency room nurses do their best to help you imagine what could happen if you continue down the path of putting lives at risk.

Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Jeff Lowes tells me it’s standard practice in Oregon to offer drunk drivers that diversion class on their first offense, and that usually they spend at least a couple hours in jail after the arrest. It depends on how many other scofflaws are in their company.

The second time around, the conviction goes on their record and they serve either 80 hours of community service or two days in jail, and pay a $1000 fine. If you have two prior convictions within the last 10 years, and you are convicted of your third, that conviction goes down as a felony.

None of us is perfect.

We are human in our imperfections.

I pray that we can all learn something from Caleb Pruitt’s mistakes.

As Judge Michael McShane closed out the sentencing hearing for Pruitt, sending him to prison for five years, he noted the next item on his morning docket — a line of drunk drivers outside the courtroom, 18 of them, waiting to plead guilty. He told Pruitt he planned on keeping the smiling photos of Angie Burke on display in his courtroom for those drunk drivers to see.

Perhaps they’ll be quicker learners than Caleb Pruitt.

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