Crack down on drunken driving now

On many things, I am of a relatively liberal persuasion. I believe that human beings should help each other. I believe that people make mistakes and that we should allow them second chances. I believe that many people incarcerated in our prisons shouldn’t be there.

On the other hand, I believe that people who rape children and appear to have no control over their actions must be locked up because there is some probability that they will re-offend. Similarly, I believe that a monster who has been arrested multiple times for drunken driving should be removed from society and put away for the rest of his natural life.

We all know what Frederick J. Weller is accused of. He allegedly got behind the wheel of a car drunk and snuffed out the life of a wonderful young woman. Another of his alleged victims is now fighting for his life in the hospital. Weller has been jailed twice for pathetically small periods of time, signaling to others who drive while drunk that there is little the Legislature or the courts are willing or able to do. Every time an accused drunken driver goes before our courts, we should all be there, staring at the judges. Every one of us ought to be writing to our state legislators and to our judges, demanding action. This newspaper gives you their addresses on a regular basis. Please take just a few minutes to write.

Restaurants and bars have a responsibility as well — they need to know when to cut people off. Who among us hasn’t seen a perfectly respectable restaurant serve yet another drink to a clearly inebriated patron? What happens when that person gets behind the wheel? We tried prohibition. It didn’t work. Now we must hold people responsible for their individual actions. We know that they have choices. There’s Alcoholics Anonymous. There’s therapy. There are wonderful facilities like the Brien Center in Pittsfield. If they don’t avail themselves of the options, they must be held accountable.

Years ago in Great Barrington, a known drug dealer was allowed to ply his trade in broad daylight. One day, a few mothers ran out into the street and yelled, “This has got to stop.” Only then did the man disappear from the streets of Great Barrington. The police and the DA got the message. It really isn’t rocket science.

Here’s an idea: Before you drink and drive, consider the idea of being placed under arrest, brought to trial and sentenced to years of incarceration. You might think again. As it stands now, a kid with a gun who holds up a gas station will spend a good part of his natural life behind bars. A drunken driver who injures or kills others gets almost nothing for doing it. That’s just wrong.

I recently got a note from my friend, Francois Bizalion, who reminds me that in Europe, this type of behavior is no longer tolerated. Some places have zero tolerance for drunken driving and things are getting better. People are literally scared to get behind the wheel after a single drink, so stiff are the penalties. His Sheffield neighbor, Ted Dobson, is the father of the beautiful, educated and talented young woman, Moira Banks-Dobson, whose life was ended all too soon by this alleged murderer.

Francois writes, “I frankly don’t know how this man [Ted Dobson] is going to get up and resume his life.” Is there anyone among us who can’t understand how the unnecessary death of a child or grandchild or neighbor impacts us for life? The loss is devastating. To put a guy like this in jail for a few months or give him a suspended sentence is just not the answer. We have simply got to do more to protect ourselves and our children from the scourge of drunken driving.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 3/10/12


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