Valley News -

By Jeff Pack
Writer 

Ending DUI in our community starts with us

 

Last updated 6/21/2019 at 12:35am



I wrote last week about the rash of driving under the influence-involved deaths that have taken over the hearts and minds of our community and spoke with some of the stakeholders in the issue.

Before that, I wrote and posted more than a few of the reports in the Valley News pertaining to the crashes, attended the vigils and posted the stories on our social media channels.

As a reporter, someone who reads dozens and dozens of car crash reports and stories each week – not to mention the myriad other crime reports I read through each week – the emotional load can pile up.

The two significantly horrific crashes that ended in the deaths of two innocent people in Temecula, while severely injuring several more, within four days of each other shocked the community and had the same effect on me.

I knew the emotional toll was growing inside me, I had begun to lose sleep and felt a lingering rage for the senselessness of it all.

Last Thursday night, I attended the Emergency Community Meeting to Stop D.U.I. at Monteleone Meadows in Murrieta, which was attended by more than 75 people with about 10 panelists offering their insight.

I prowled the wings of the meeting taking photos and listening to dozens of people ask questions, relate stories of loved ones lost to drunken driving incidents, place blame, demand justice and change – all in the name of attempting to find solutions to “End D.U.I.”

By 9 p.m. Thursday, I listened to several speakers, and before that, read many comments on endless social media threads pointing fingers at bars, wineries, restaurants, tourism groups, cities, law enforcement, legislators and anyone who might be remotely worthy of blame for a senseless act.

The only people I hadn’t heard accepting blame for this national plague that takes the lives of more than 10,000 people every year and at least six area residents in the past six months?

Us. Our community. Me.

So, I raised my hand, took the mic and voiced that opinion. Not as a reporter – that’s generally a big no-no in our profession – but as a citizen, as a parent of children and friend to many in our community.

I suggested that maybe we should stop blaming and asking as much of our law enforcement officers, elected representatives, city officials, wineries, bars and restaurant owners.

Maybe we needed to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask how we as a community can do more to police ourselves – our neighbors, our friends and even the people we see in our community that may be putting all of us at risk.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “If you see something, say something.” Why should that not apply with drinking and driving?

Why is it so hard for us to witness someone stumbling into a car with keys and hand and actually do something about it either firsthand or by notifying law enforcement?

Why do we watch people overdrink at a bar or winery or brewery and avoid insisting on forcing the establishment to pay attention to that person’s well-being?

I asked myself that question, first, before I took the mic – because I am certainly guilty of witnessing a potentially dangerous situation involving alcohol and vehicles and walking away, not getting involved.

That disappoints me.

But how many of us, when being honest with ourselves, can admit to not doing enough in those situations for fear of being called “a rat” or being wrong about how we read the situation?

How many winery, bar, and restaurant owners can reflect on the rash of recent DUI-involved deaths and have the ability to take a second look at how they care for their customers?

To my knowledge, there is no jail time levied on someone who calls in a potential crime to law enforcement, only to find out later that no crime has been committed.

So, maybe we have to put our fears aside and remember that we can save lives by simply caring for one another.

Can we look after the innocent people unknowingly headed toward a tragic end – as well as the people who, if we don’t intervene in one way or another, will become the guilty?

If the tragedy never happens, haven’t we saved two lives?

Of course, we have to continue to educate our young people, force our legislators to give law enforcement and the courts the ability to punish those that drink and drive.

But for me, this is where we begin to stop drinking and driving, this is where we take a stand, this is where we come together and protect one another – from ourselves and each other – for the good of our community and the ones we love.

It starts with each and every one of us.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at [email protected]

 

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