The death this month of 22-year-old Los Angeles Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart – killed by a drunk driver just hours after making a spectacular season debut – has lead to outrage against drunk driving in general and in particular against the driver who killed Adenhart.
The drunk driver who killed Adenhart -- Andrew Thomas Gallo, also 22-years-old – has been charged with three counts of murder, one felony count of fleeing the scene of a traffic collision involving death or permanent injury, one felony count of driving under the influence causing injury and one felony count of driving with a blood-alcohol level above the .08 percent that is the legal limit in California – Gallo’s blood alcohol level was three times higher than the legal limit – and causing bodily injury.
If convicted, Gallo could spend 55 years in prison.
Gallo is a particularly unsympathetic figure: he was on probation for a prior drunk driving conviction, was driving on a suspended license, and fled the scene after the crash.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas expressed the community’s anger toward Gallo: “As the District Attorney, over the years I have seen some heart-wrenching things," Rackauckas said during a media conference. "They don't get much tougher than this. This Angel and his two friends were too young to be sent to heaven, but the defendant selfishly and recklessly got behind the wheel after getting drunk, and they didn't have a choice…The defendant has acknowledged that he knew the dangers of drinking and driving based on his participation in this alcohol program… Knowing that he had caused this crash, Mr. Gallo cowardly fled the scene on foot without checking on the welfare of those he had just hurt.”
Of course, Rackauckas is correct.
But I question whether many of us are in a moral position to condemn Gallo.
There are people who don’t drink.
There are people who don’t drive.
Just about everyone else has driven drunk.
Especially in the car culture of Southern California – where it is just about impossible to get anywhere without getting behind the wheel – I venture to say that nearly everyone leaving a bar -- or most people leaving a social occasion where they’ve consumed alcohol – are driving drunk.
Of course, most of these people don’t kill anyone.
But that’s just luck.
Coincidentally, in the midst of the outrage over Adenhart’s death, the Los Angeles Times reports that 70 sworn and civilian employees of the Los Angles County’s Sheriff's Department were arrested for alcohol-related offenses last year, the majority for driving off-duty while under the influence of alcohol.
Each of them – and the hundreds more sherrif department employees who drove drunk but didn’t get caught -- could easily have killed someone.
As could all of us who have ever gotten behind the wheel after drinking.
I am not suggesting that we should go easy on Gallo or other drunk drivers.
But in our culture of drinking and driving it is pure chance that many of us are not sitting in his place.