Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Counting Mistakes

This past January, late in the month and late at night, a tragic accident occurred a few miles from my home. The result: two dead adults and a deceased teenager. Miraculously, one individual, a second teenager, survived but only by the grace of God (in my opinion). Now, eight months later, the results of the accident investigation have been released and, sadly, they reveal what I suspected all along --- speed, alcohol, and lawlessness.

The first car, an Audi, on loan from a local car dealership because the driver’s own vehicle was in the shop for repairs, was driven by a family man, John Geise, who was returning from his primary job as a butler at the Foxwoods casino. His secondary employer was Prudential Pequot Properties. In an extension of kindness and generosity, Mr. Geise was sharing his ride home with a co-worker, another family man, Wayne Lecardo. Both gentlemen had finished their shifts at the casino around 1:15 AM and were on their way home. Both were sober.

The second car, an Oldsmobile Alero, was driven by sixteen-year-old Cameron Lee, by all accounts an amiable kid who was well known and well liked at the local high school. Unfortunately, being a “great kid” doesn’t necessarily mean you make great decisions, and young Mr. Lee made some doozies in the last few hours of his life:

Mistake #1: underage drinking
On the night of the accident, a few doors down from the Lee home, a seventeen-year-old boy hosted a party for 30-40 of his closest friends from the local high school, unbeknownst to his parents who were absent at the time. According to the teenage attendees, no alcohol was served at this gathering and, if there was, no one saw Cameron Lee imbibe. I guess that explains why Mr. Lee had a blood alcohol level of 0.12, six times the legal limit for a sixteen-year-old kid. By the way, the legal drinking age in Connecticut is twenty-one.

Mistake #2: driving outside the boundaries of his driver’s license
In November 2006, just two months before the accident, Cameron Lee obtained his driver’s license. In Connecticut, a sixteen-year-old driver cannot drive after midnight and cannot take passengers in his car for the first six months, parents and family excepted. The accident occurred at 1:38 am, well beyond the midnight limit. Mr. Lee also had a passenger in the car, as I mentioned previously, another teenager, who miraculously survived the collision with nothing more than an injured ankle (and a lot of unpleasant memories, I’m sure).

Mistake #3: driving under the influence
The police report states that at 12:30 am, the Oldsmobile Alero driven by Cameron Lee was still parked in the driveway of the Lee home. The accident occurred at 1:38 am. The conclusion: sometime between those hours, Mr. Lee took the automobile for a drive. Given the blood alcohol level of the teenager, the assumption is that he left the party given by his friend, returned home, and made the decision to drive to another location, fully aware that he had consumed alcohol. Being sixteen, Cameron Lee probably didn’t want to admit that he was “drunk enough” to impair his responses behind the wheel of a car, but not necessarily “drunk enough” to exhibit obvious outward physical signs of drunkenness; thus, duping him into thinking he was still equipped to take a short drive to the local McDonalds. Given the current state requirements for driver’s education, it is unlikely that Cameron Lee had no understanding of the relationship between drinking and driving as instruction in that subject is mandatory before the issuance of a motor vehicle license (at least in Connecticut); hence, my hesitancy to say something like “he was just a kid and didn’t understand what he was doing.”

Mistake #4: speeding
The computer module from the Lee Oldsmobile was analyzed as part of the accident investigation. It indicated that the car was traveling at 101 mph five seconds before impact; one second before impact, the auto was moving at 89 mph. Apparently, Cameron Lee was doing what all young men dream of doing at some point in their lives --- taking a car to the outer limits of the speedometer. Perhaps he should have reserved that effort for a racetrack and not a dark road in New London County. The Audi he hit was so damaged by the impact of the collision (and the resulting fire) that any accurate record of speed for the vehicle was impossible to obtain.

Mistake #5: driving recklessly during icy road conditions
The early morning hours of January 28, 2007, were quite chilly, meaning that black ice, especially on bridges, was an imminent danger. Not surprising, the accident in question occurred on a freeway overpass. A more experienced driver would have recognized that attempting to control a car at speeds near 90-100 mph on a road that might have treacherous conditions would be well nigh impossible. Sadly, Cameron Lee was not an experienced driver. He was a driver who, if fortunate, had driven in winter conditions while practicing with his driver’s permit; yet, southern Connecticut hasn’t yielded much in the way of difficult driving conditions the past few years due to mild winter weather. Hence, the possibility that Mr. Lee had little skill in handling unexpected poor weather road conditions.

So, five mistakes and three fatalities, not the kind of sum residents wants to count, regardless of the age of the victims. It is a sad official outcome to an even sadder tragedy that, I daresay, has changed my community forever. But worst of all, quoting from a recent article in The Day newspaper:
…Police wrapped up their…investigation into the accident by charging the youth who hosted the party. Police captain Steven Smith said police do not expect to charge anyone else in the case.

The youth, whom police did not identify because state law bars the release of names of minors charged with all but the most serious crimes, received an infraction…for permitting a minor to possess liquor. The charge is part of a 2006 law that makes it illegal to knowingly permit a minor to possess alcohol in a home or on private property. Police declined to say what Lee’s blood alcohol level was at the time of the crash. [That information was released in a later article.]

Police said the youth, whom they would not identify as a boy or girl, can pay a $146 fine or appeal the infraction in court.
That puts the value of each life taken in this tragedy at ~$48.67, if we are counting dollars. I think I would rather count mistakes.

For two additional articles about this situation, click here and here.


Anonymous said...

Wow, you really are an opinionated, judgemental jerk. Yes, this KID made some tragic mistakes. But he was a kid! He made some bad choices under the influence of alcohol (something millions of adults do daily). These mistakes proved to have tragic outcomes, and he can now never rectify those mistakes.

How many adults get behind the wheel while intoxicated daily, not wanting to admit they are 'drunk enough'? They clearly know the possible outcomes yet it doesn't stop them. And now you take a kid who is 16, an age when all kids think their invincible. This was a horrible tragic accident. There clearly are problems with drinking and driving in our country and yet you choose to vilify and judge a child? Shame on you!!!

What kind of person must you be to write something like this? Have you lived such a perfect, mistake-free life that you now have the privledge of judgement? I must say that one of the beauties of the internet and blogging is that it brings out someones true character... or in your case, lack of character. How classy.... judging a kid, a kid who died!

On a final note, great catch about the legal drinking age being 21 in Connecticut. Seeing as this is a federal law... it applies in ALL states. But I never could've guessed Connecticut.

Plush Duck said...

Dear Anonymous:

Thank you for your comment. In response, I would like to humbly submit that you misunderstood the point of my article. I was attempting to say that if we count the value of Cameron Lee’s time on earth in dollars and cents, based solely on the monetary fine levied in this tragic case ($146), his life was worth ~$48.67, less than the cost of one tank of gas for my Subaru Outback. Surely you would agree that his life was worth so much more!

Yet, how can we recognize the “more than monetary value” of Cameron’s existence now that he is deceased? I think the best way is to thoughtfully examine his errors (count his mistakes, so to speak) so that others can learn from them. Ask yourself: if Cameron Lee had survived the accident, would he share with others the lessons he learned about the tragic consequences of breaking the law? Would he relate to his fellow students and friends the anguish he would undoubtedly feel knowing he caused the death of two fellow human beings? Would he want other young people to learn from his example? I would hope the answer to these questions is “yes.”

I would respectfully suggest that you make room for Cameron Lee’s life to gain value in death by allowing a thorough examination of his errors and that you try not to see such a study as abusive and disparaging to his memory. Rather, stand up for Cameron by painting a more complete picture of his life for those of us who did not know him. Tell others about the more positive aspects of his life and character so we can all remember him in a better light.

Again, I thank you for your comment.

Plush Duck said...

Additionally, I would like to respond to this statement made by Anonymous”

...great catch about the legal drinking age being 21 in Connecticut. Seeing as this is a federal applies in ALL states.

For clarification, I offer this from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 required all states to raise their minimum purchase and public possession of alcohol age to 21. States that did not comply faced a reduction in highway funds under the Federal Highway Aid Act. The U.S. Department of Transportation has determined that all states are in compliance with this act.

The national law specifically requires states to prohibit purchase and public possession of alcoholic beverages. It does not require prohibition of persons under 21 (also called youth or minors) from drinking alcoholic beverages. The term “public possession” is strictly defined and does not apply to possession for the following:

- An established religious purpose, when accompanied by a parent, spouse, or legal guardian age 21 or older;
- Medical purposes when prescribed or administered by a licensed physician, pharmacist, dentist, nurse, hospital, or medical institution;
- In private clubs or establishments; and
- In the course of lawful employment by a duly licensed manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer.

Please note that this law only prohibits purchase and public possession of alcohol by individuals younger than 21 years of age. It does not prohibit consumption by those under 21. Also, please note that states do retain the right to set a legal drinking age under 21; however, if they do so, they face the loss of highway funds. Most states would rather keep that money.

Or maybe this statement from David J. Hanson, Ph.D. of Alcohol Problems and Solutions will help:

The title of the legislation itself is clearly misleading in that the National Minimum Drinking Ag Act doesn’t prohibit drinking by persons under the age of 21 (so-called “underage” persons) nor does it require the states to prohibit such drinking. In addition, descriptions of the law contribute to the false belief that it does. For example, the assertion that “the legal age for alcohol in the USDA is 21 years old” clearly leaves the false impression that the minimum legal drinking age for alcohol is 21.

Anonymous said...

Cameron, making the biggest mistake of his life that night, ended up with the luckiest death of all. He died with Wayne and John. That is the only thing his parents have to be grateful for. To know that those young men, took the hand of their child, and showed him the way. And just wondering, have they ever contacted the widows from Cameron's unlawful McDonalds run? A call? A card? Any form of "I'm sorry"? Doubtful.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous- No. The parents haven't made any attempt to contact the victims of this crime, or publicly educate his friends. As a matter of fact the "poor" unfortunate survivor of the crash (his fellow drunk teen) was just arrested last weekend for DUI. Imagine that.

The first anonymous commenter is the truly opinionated jerk. How dare you justify or defend this behavior "because adults do it". Anyone who drinks and drives deserves to be vilified, but these kids clearly think they are "invincible" as you put it. They don't get it and the parents aren't making them get it.

Anonymous said...

I was the first commenter and I was writing to defend the name of a family that I know, the Lee's. They both are amazing amazing parents. Cameron's death was a huge tradegy for them all and they will forever suffer for it. Three tradegies happened that day - three people died and three families lost loved ones. Cameron was the wild child who chose to go to a party that night and then, despite all the right parenting, got behind the wheel of a car. He made a huge mistake and died for it, taking two innocent others along with him.

Everyone has had rebellious times and every parent has had a rebellious child. This family lost theirs. On top of that, there are blogs like this one floating around, denouncing their son. Their son who can never make ammends for his mistake. I in no way condone his behavior, but I do to those who choose to place public displays of judgement when they have no idea the way it may affect the other families. Those who feel they are so perfect that they can pass judgement on others. Those whose chidren are still young and they therefore have never had to go through raising teenagers.

Three people died and three families lost a loved one. Three tradegies happened that day. Three families suffered. However, now the other two families are suing the Lee's for everything that they are worth. Placing monetary value on their loved ones, causing an extreme amount of anguish on a family that is already suffering so much. Mr. Lee now has to prove that he is not negligent. His son did what many other sisteen year old boys have done before. He snuck out, went to a party, then made the stupid mistake of driving. It wasn't his parents driving, nor was it his parents pouring the drinks. They taught him the right things, he knew what he was doing was wrong. Yet he was still a sixteen year old, just trying to have fun and not gasping the fact that his actions could, and would, have such huge implications.

My heart goes out to the other two families. Their loss is incomprehensible. And I know for a fact that the Lee's mourn every day for their losses. Yet I am at a loss for how these families can be so cruel to the Lee's. They all suffered so greatly that night; suing the Lee's will never bring their loved ones back and will never make the situation right. How could someone in good conscience do that to another family? Now Mr. Lee has to prove that he is not a negligent father. Everyone who has ever known them knows what an incredible father he is. Why do these people have to put this family through more? It won't bring their loved one back.

To everyone who has read this and commented; put yourselves in the other families shoes. Would you want to happen upon a blog like this on your loved one? I felt an incredible amount of anger reading it and I'm not an immediate family member I only hope that no one here has to ever experience the horrible loss that these families have gone through.

Anonymous said...

Furthermore, this seems like a blog with some religious undertones. What ever happened to compassion? To forgiveness? How about writing a blog on that rather than judgement? Maybe if more people practiced compassion, these other families would be able to move on rather than taking their vengance out on the Lee's. They lost someone and now they want the Lee's to loose everything. If Cameron had survived it would be one thing but he didn't. It wasn't his parents driving the car and yet you would think it was by the things that they are being put through by money-hungry lawyers. And the Lee's have never uttered a negative word about the families. This whole tragedy has turned into a disgusting mess - and people who don't know any of the parties involved writing blogs about this only makes it worse.