I got rear ended by a drunk driver without insurance. Leaving downtown San Diego today, we were at a stoplight sitting still. The car behind was also still, but jumped the gun and hit us.
I got out to inspect. The young man had to ask if he hit us, which initially tipped me off that something was not right. We pulled over and pretty quickly established that he did not have insurance.
He apologized and wanted to work things out “man to man.” I told him that we did not need to establish a relationship, and that’s why people have insurance and contact the police when there’s a collision. He clearly did not want the police to be called, but seemed to stress that it was because he recently graduated from college and wanted to become a lawyer.
I asked some softball questions trying to determine if he’d been partying and he easily let me know he’d been watching the Chargers game at a friend’s house and had been drinking… “but that was earlier today,” he added, “I’m just trying to get home,” he said.
“Me, too,” I replied, “But you’ve damaged my bumper and we’re going to have to get that fixed.”
I don’t know enough about drugs to determine if he was on any. But he was wobbly, like someone at a backyard barbecue that’s gone on for seven hours.
We went back and forth for a few minutes as I thought about calling the police. It was hot outside. The sun was beating down. And my pregnant wife was waiting patiently in the car, engine turned off, no AC flowing.
I also thought back to when I was 24 years old, and the mistakes I made along the way… including driving intoxicated… though I never hit anybody or anything.
Once while in college, I clearly remember the time I drove from the bar to my apartment… pulling into a parking space, slowly bumping the curb, thinking to myself, “How in the hell did I make it home?” And was truly amazed I was safe.
“You’re in no condition to be driving,” I told him, “Because you could get hurt, or be killed, or you could hurt someone else. Would you agree with that?” I asked him. He said yes.
I suggested he put his keys on the car and have a seat on the sidewalk. He put his keys on the hood, but never sat down.
It occurred to me what my Catholic pastor said during his homily this morning — when he described a situation a few years ago. Long story short, he was walking down the street one day when he passed a sobbing lady. He offered help and learned that her friend just had a mis-carriage. He prayed with the girl and then left her be. Two years later, that girl approved her mother’s wishes to become Catholic… because of her earlier encounter with the same priest on the street.
His phone was dead. I offered to call his parents. Luckily, he knew their phone number digits. (These days most of use a cell phone to call by name rather than number. And we often don’t even know the digits of the person we’re calling.)
For my own security, I blocked my number. What if they didn’t pick up? Would I offer to call one of his drunk friends? Would I THEN decide to call the police? Was I doing the entire city a dis-service by not immediately calling the cops?
Fortunately, someone answered. It was his mother, but we quickly got disconnected. I called back. “Are you Joey’s mother? Joey ran into the back of my car. He should not be driving and you need to come and get him.” We got disconnected again.
I called a third time, spoke to the mother, and the father, and gave them our location.
Joey and I spent the next 25 minutes waiting and talking. Much to my dismay, he used a LOT of foul language. He broke down into some form of crying at least twice. And he told me another four times that he wanted to be a lawyer. And he professed to me about debt and how nobody can get ahead in life. And how he had recently taken a college study trip overseas. “I know, Joey, you’ve already told me that,” I said to him during his drunken ramblings.
Because of his nationality, I asked about his family, his parents, if he had brothers and sisters, etc. Who was born here or there… He has an older brother and sister. One of them is in the military. One of them is married and has a child. And he told me about his parents’ work.
I told Joey that I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing. I explained, “If the police show up, there’s a 100% chance that you’re going to jail, they’ll tow your car, you’ll get a court date, a DUI will cost you $15,000 in legal fees, and you’ll be riding your bike for a couple of years.”
I added, “Joey, you’re very lucky that you only hit my car. It could have been a baby in a stroller, a man on a bike, whatever. It could much worse.”
At times Joey was overflowing with appreciation. At other times he seemed to act a little tougher than he should have. But I couldn’t stop thinking how his life just hit a fork in the road. It could get really bad, really quick.
After a significant wait, I called his parents for an estimated arrival. When my patience faded, I called again. And then again. I knew they were coming, but I would need to give them better directions as they got closer.
When the parents pulled up, the very first thing I noticed was a rosary hanging from the mirror.
Meeting them, they seemed like very nice and decent people. Of course they were thrilled to see everybody was alive and mostly well.
Discussing what happened, Joey mis-spoke a couple of times, so the father sent him to the car. Shortly afterwards I could see Joey in the back seat of their SUV, punching the passenger seat like Rocky Balboa in training. I took it as a sign that he knew he screwed up.
The parents were obviously appreciative. I told them I noticed their rosary and asked where they go to Mass. It sounded like they bounce around a bit, and also that dad and Joey don’t go at all. The mother was tearing up. And you could tell that the dad knew his son was hanging from a thread.
“I was extremely close to calling the police,” I told the dad. “But I knew what that would have done to him.” The dad understood.
My wife was with me. She talked with the mom about churches they attend, while I spoke with the father. He offered to take care of repairs and I gathered more contact info.
I expressed to the parents some of the things that had gone through my own mind earlier. I told them that I hope Joey would take this as a pretty solid lesson and thank his lucky stars nobody got hurt … and that he’s not spending the night in the custody of San Diego’s finest.
“I need to tell Joey something,” I said to the parents. “Yes, please go ahead…” they said.
I walked alone back to where Joey was sitting in his parents car. I motioned for him to get out. He was extremely reluctant, but eventually did.
“Joey, you’re VERY lucky you ran into me. But you’re only lucky once or twice. Don’t do this again.”
I grabbed his shoulder and looked him in the eyes, “Listen, I know you’re buzzed right now, but you need to remember what happened here, and make something good out of it… okay? I’ve been your age and I’ve made mistakes. You cannot drive intoxicated. Don’t do it. It’s too dangerous. And you need insurance.”
We shook hands and he thanked me and he got back into the car.
We said goodbye to the parents, each one driving a separate car. Joey was now a passenger. We assume they continued on to a gathering with friends in La Mesa, which was the parents’ original plan before I called them to pick up their son.
I have faith that the father will make good on his promises to repair the bumper. I pray that Joey will never forget what happened today. It was truly a fork in his road of life. And I hope we all made the right decisions.
UPDATE: Sept 2017 and dad has not yet repaired the bumper.