Privilege Blog

In Memoriam For Lives Lost Too Young, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:08am

Just over a week ago, early in the morning of Saturday, May 16th, a truck and a car crashed on a San Diego freeway. The driver and passenger of the car, two young women, were killed instantly. They were medical students at UC San Diego, and friends of my daughter. That’s how I come to be writing about this today.

There were five people in the car altogether. Two died, one was seriously injured, two less so. They’d all just received their results from the test known as Step 1, which is, as you might guess, the first step towards becoming doctors. They were coming home from a celebratory party. Madison Elizabeth Cornwell was the designated driver. That’s important.

The driver of the other vehicle, a truck, survived. He was and still is a 21-year old Marine on active duty in the San Diego area. He was drunk. So drunk, in fact, that he was driving the wrong way down the freeway. Headlights off, hazard lights on.

Madison, and the young woman in the passenger seat behind her, Annie Li Baldock, were killed on impact.

In honor of those we have lost, here is a video in which Madison’s younger sister and brother speak out.

I admit that when I was going through the end of my marriage, one night I drove home after 2 martinis. Big martinis. I wasn’t drunk enough to drive the wrong way on a freeway, but I shouldn’t have been in the car. I’ve felt badly about it ever since.

You may already be more responsible than I. And you may have, as I did, stressed to your children from the time they were little that they should never get into a car with a driver who is under the influence. My best friend and I used to say, “If anyone ever wants you to get into an automobile unsafely, without a seat belt or when someone’s been drinking, call us at any time and we will come get you.”

But there’s more we can do. We can adopt the Scandinavian commitment to and social acceptance of designated drivers. Even the 6’6″ guys who like to drive fast cars are on board. In Sweden, for example, every vehicle at every party has a corresponding non-drinking driver. There’s no cowboy prize awarded to bravado, no myth around, “Dude!”

We deserve a society in which we’d rather take away car keys, thus embarrassing our friends and ourselves, than let anyone ever drive the wrong way down a freeway into the end of two young lives.

Have a responsible weekend. We’re none of us perfect, but we can try. I am vowing on the tears that fall, as I watch and remember that video, to do better.

58 Responses

  1. Such a sad story. All around the City of Dallas this weekend, there are big digital highway signs that say this: DUI Arrest Zone. No Refusals. My husband had to explain to me that “no refusals” means that if a person does refuse a breathalyzer test (which they have a right to do), they will be taken to jail.

    1. @Susan, Good for Dallas. I had forgotten that it’s Memorial Day weekend. I wish that everyone will remember to designate a driver, and take away keys.

  2. This is heartbreaking. Drinking and driving is very much looked down upon here too, but then we live in a country that existed long before cars and makes life very easy for those who don’t or choose not to drive. California, not so much. I’m so sorry, and my heart goes out to your daughter.

  3. This is incredibly sad and such a tragic waste of young lives. I am so sorry for their families and friends.
    From my point of view, growing up in the UK and Europe, I always saw a stark difference in drinking habits of both places. I’m glad I got to witness both extremes and hope my kids – young as they are – are learning from home the safe way to proceed wherever and whenever alcohol is around. Furthermore we always used to refuse playdates with our kids’ friends when they were smaller if we knew their parents didn’t use child car seats (yes, these parents exist!) and we weren’t able to transport them safely ourselves.

    1. @silkpathdiary, I am sure you are setting a good example. I think the next step up is empowering them to prevent other people from driving unsafely, when they are teens. It’s not easy.

    2. @silkpathdiary,
      You’re so right, in the first place in that we must try and I dread the time they are old enough to drive but we all must try even harder then. I wonder where this young man’s friends/family/colleagues were?
      I wish you a blessed weekend with your nearest and dearest.

  4. That is so sad. I wish someone near the other driver had cared enough to stop him from getting behind the wheel. If you see anyone who you believe may be driving drunk, report it!

    1. @une femme, Anecdotally I hear that people tried to stop him, but clearly not hard enough. And it had been reported, which is good, but the accident happened very shortly after the report came in.

  5. So tragic. Sorry for the loss of her friends, so terrible and so tragic. Sweden has come a long way regarding drinking and driving, but even here there is room for improvement. The technology exists today to make it physicallt impossible to start a car when under influence, wish it could become mandatory to install and use in all cars.

  6. I’m so sorry for this loss, the ripples that will affect so many. A few years ago, a friend lost her daughter (my daughter’s friend, a beautiful young woman we’d watched grow up) to a drunk driver. And a decade earlier, a good friend of mine’s husband and two of her three children were killed by a drunk driver, in the daytime, one of the children sustaining brain injuries but surviving. I once totted up the number of victims I knew within just 2 or 3 “degrees of separation” and it’s staggering. Thank you for taking the time, amidst your own grief, to draw attention so eloquently to this issue. I hope your weekend brings you some solace. Take care.

    1. @Frances/Materfamilias, Thank you. I had to do it, for my daughter at least. This is the first time I’ve known anyone within degrees of separation – for anyone else who is like me, I hope that reading this post is the closest you ever get.

  7. So tragic and sad. I’m sorry for the families and your daughter, too.

    When there’s no designated driver, as was the case for the drunk Marine, Uber is a reasonable alternative.

  8. So very sad. I completely agree with you. My condolences to your daughter and the UCSD community.

  9. Oh, this is horrible – and such pause for thought. Please send my condolences to your daughter. And very good message indeed. I don’t get into a car very often – I live in a city with public transport and I walk everywhere. But I feel very strongly that those who drink (or take recreational drugs) should do so in the safety of home – or with a designated driver. That’s what cabs and friends are for.

  10. Oh, I read about that. I was heartbroken and furious!!!!! This happens too often and the drunk drive has a very lenient sentence.

    I am so sorry for these bright young people just starting out their lives. My deepest condolences.

  11. My heart is deeply saddened to learn of such a tremendous loss of lives so young. My prayers for their families, and friends, that they will find peace and comfort. xo

  12. I’m so sorry to hear that. What a waste and a loss.

    It surprised me, after moving from New York (a city with excellent public transportation) to a university town, that my classmates and friends would regularly drive home after a night at the bar. Some after drinking quite heavily. As a very minimal drinker, I would offer friends a ride home, but most refused.

    This may encourage me to press harder next time.

    1. @Danielle, I hope you do. Your friends are making decisions for more than themselves, people who would never, ever make that choice.

  13. A terrible terrible unbearable loss of young, promising lives and condolences to their families and their friends including your daughter. My best wishes for a speedy recovery to the other 3 injured passengers. It will be hard.
    Your kind words wishing my 9 year old son a speedy recovery to boy hood have stayed with me. Our son was seriously injured nearly 2 &1/2 years ago after car he was traveling in to soccer training was hit by a speeding car traveling at 2 and a half times speed limit.
    That stupid driver was also 21 years old just like the drunken criminal in this case. Cars are lethal weapons in the hands of some. As a lawyer, I don’t know what the solution is and neither does my husband who is a dr.

    1. @Den, I think any solution will be difficult and costly. The question is only how much public sorrow for the losses must be voiced before government, industry, and private individuals are willing to shoulder the costs and the loss of independence.

  14. I have always said- WHY do we not have some kind of ongoing smart system lock out on ALL CARS if you cannot pass a sobriety test to get behind the wheel?? Huh?? And yes, I am sure people can fool them, but if we can build drones and walk on other planets why cant we do this?? Come on!! But the social acceptance of drunk driving on the fringes,(“oh, I am a little buzzed but I am just headed home only 2 miles away” ) is telling. Also, a dui here in Georgia is back on the roads relatively quick after all the classes, etc.. Why not make the penalty severe enough to stop people? I want to see everyone quitting drunkeness, but alas it will never happen. The grief that comes after such a senseless accident is almost too much to bear. My wish is that somehow these people can heal enough to be at peace with the tragedy, if that is possible and go forward from here. Maybe this serves a purpose to shake up folks enough to change. I say this as I watch my idiot neighbors give their 9 year old a powerful 4 wheeler as he takes of down the street…………no helmet either. Humanity is tragic.

  15. Lisa,
    My heart goes out to your daughter and all the friends & family of these two young women. The sadness, anger and shocking reality of the video is heartbreaking. When I saw the Friars exit sign, chills went down my spine. My sister-in-law and her family live in La Jolla and drive it on a regular basis. Forgive my selfishness but for a moment I thought ~ this could have been my family.
    My heart goes out to the friends and family of this young marine as well. I can only imagine the pain that they must be experiencing as well.
    Thank you for sharing.

  16. One more thing ~ it’s important to ask ourselves and our children who are old enough to drink and drive ~ what will my family be left to live with if I die and what will I have to live with if I kill someone else?
    Unfortunately for many, if they can’t comprehend the horror of what actually happens in a car accident, they think it will never happen to them. Out of curiosity and worry, I sat in on a mandatory 3 hour class that my daughter was required to take before getting her permit. Honestly I wanted to know what kind of reality these kids were getting a dose of. It was pretty much 3 hours of what you would expect. Mainly discussion of the rules and penalties for breaking the law behind the wheel. These teens walked out thinking more about what they should and should not do in order to not have their license suspended or taken away. I wanted my daughter and son to understand more. Short of driving them to the morgue I showed them photos found on Google. I felt sick doing this but parenthood is not always pretty. It definitely got their attention.
    Again, my sympathy to your family.

    1. @Lisa Porter, Thank you. Parenthood isn’t always pretty. Or easy. And no forgiveness required. I think the human mind does block out tragedies that happen, “over there,” and doesn’t feel compelled to act until it happens “over here.” I think we are probably engineered that way, and most of us always have to focus on more global compassion – it may not come naturally. It’s not always how we feel that matters, it’s what we do. And you have done something for all of us by taking on the ugly part of childrearing.

  17. Unspeakably sad, my heart is pounding out of my chest after reading this. In the area of LA where I live, there is also a terrible problem of elderly people driving who have no business behind the wheel. So many deaths have occurred when these drivers hit the accelerator rather than the brakes. I’m proud to say (although I hope she never knows) that I reported my mother who was an unsafe driver to the DMV and got letters from two of her doctors concurring. Her license was taken away after failing two driving tests. I urge other people with elderly parents who don’t want to give up their driving independence to do the same.
    I know what I’m going to say next is going to be controversial, but when my daughter was in high school (junior and senior years) our house, with the other parent’s permission was the place for parties and a limited amount of alcohol. I took away everyone’s keys, and they all stayed overnight. I knew they were going to do it somewhere, so I decided I’d rather them be safe and under my supervision.

    1. @kathy, I have no issue with what you did for your daughter. We drink wine, better to condone it in older teens than to send them some place to drink and drive home. And I know that the Google self-drive car is a great hope for seniors.

    2. @kathy, I’ve always thought that this was a good compromise, but it’s illegal in my state and the parents can be, and often are, arrested.

  18. And two families are mourning the loss of bright wonderful young women. And had your daughter attended that celebration, and sat in the wrong seat – it could be you. It boggles my mind that the person responsible could be tried on anything less that murder period. I have driven twice under the influence — but both times I was very worried and aware this was a bad idea – still my senses were not sharp but going the wrong direction on the freeway? Why did the bar manager not simply take the guys keys? Or the girl? What happens if the bar manager is held liable? Next time would he or she take the keys? And save a life? Senseless awful death. Hugs to you and to your daughter and her classmates.

    1. @Jb, Anecdotally, we hear that the bar tender tried, that friends tried. So how do we make it OK to annoy people and insist. Thank you.

  19. An absolutely heartbreaking loss. My sympathies to your daughter on the loss of her friends, and prayers for those lost and their families. You are 100% right – we have to make it socially acceptable to be that designated driver or to stand up and take those keys. Heartbreaking. I’m so very sorry.

  20. Whoah. Heartbreaking. The clip you showed – the siblings. So sad. So eloquent.

    An important matter dwi. Thank you for the meaningful post

    1. You are very welcome. That clip in particular, focusing on the sorrow of the siblings, seemed the most poignant to me.

  21. Frightening and terrible — I’m so sorry. Problem with taking the keys is that lousy judgment has already set in and the driver tends to argue. People give up when confronted with an argumentative drunk person. The solution then is to tell the person calmly that if they get behind the wheel you’re going to call the police — and then do it.

    Also, I think ignition breathalyzers are a great idea, and the problem with implementing them isn’t individual freedom. My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. The problem is corporate greed.

    1. So true – the belligerent drunk can be very hard to manage. Corporate greed on the micro level, on the other hand, can be managed in the same way seat belts were – if the government can surmount greed at the lobbyist level:(.

  22. So preventable…such a loss. Yes, we had the same rule for our daughters. And I take my responsibility as a mom seriously enough that my own rule is I won’t drive if I’ve had anything to drink at all.

    My condolences to you and your daughter.

  23. So awful. So so so awful. All of it. The senseless loss of young lives. The young lady doing everything right. The young Marine who ruined his life and his family’s.

  24. I am so sorry for your loss and our loss of these wonderful young people to our society. What a waste on all accounts.

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