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February 22, 2024

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Drinking and driving threatens everyone on the highway of life

On Dec. 30, a mother and four children from Maryland were killed when their minivan was hit by a driver on Interstate 280 in Toledo. Bethany Griffin, 36, and her children – Jordan, Vadi Griffin, Lacie and Haley Burkman – were killed. The children’s father, Daniel Griffin, and 8-year-olds Beau Burkman and Sidney Griffin were seriously injured.

This horrific accident was simply a case of the family being in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, what is most unfortunate is the reason behind the crash.

The driver of the truck that hit the family’s van, Michigan resident Michael Gagnon, was driving under the influence of alcohol after a night of drinking in Oregon, Ohio. With a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal limit, Gagnon entered the southbound entrance of I-280 heading northbound, dodging numerous cars on the highway until the Griffins’ van could not swerve out of his way.

This accident would not have happened had Gagnon not left the Rodeo Bar and Grill to make a trip to Taco Bell and decided to get on the interstate. He decided to risk his own life, and in turn, the lives of others. This tragedy serves as a clear reminder why those who drink alcohol cannot get behind the wheel when they are under the influence.

The Griffin and Burkman families should not have had this happen to them, but while it is a horrible tragedy, I hope others can learn from Gagnon’s mistake. If you are engaging in alcohol consumption, it is absolutely essential to have a designated driver or other means of transportation home after the evening ends. Asking a favor of a friend, paying money for a cab, or simply staying home and not drinking can hardly compare to the horrible consequences that can result from an accident such as this.

It should also be noted that Gagnon was drinking at the Rodeo Bar with his family, who had rented out rooms at the Holiday Inn next door. Gagnon decided to leave the establishment and headed to Taco Bell (where responsible workers called the Oregon Police after he went through the drive-thru, but arrived too late) and I-280, when he did not need to drive anywhere to go home.

Even if you and your friends are not planning on driving, keep an eye on each others’ actions to prevent rash and impaired judgments from being made, as was the case with the Gagnon family. One simple lapse in judgment caused so much pain to this family, and driving drunk or making other mistakes while under the influence just one time can be deadly.

If the idea of killing innocent victims isn’t enough to make you put down your keys, think in more egocentric terms about the impact driving drunk can have on your own life. Fines, imprisonment, a police record, car damage, license suspension and the lifelong impacts of a DUI arrest or accident just cannot justify drinking for one evening. Again, as Gagnon’s actions show, it takes only one time to cause damage. He now faces 40 years in prison – one decision has dramatically altered his life forever.

Of course, there is a chance that you may not have to face these realities as a result of driving drunk. There is no guarantee that you won’t be a fatality in a crash that you caused. You are not invincible when driving drunk.

In this case, the Burkmans and Griffins are not the only family impacted by this crash. As Gagnon’s brother Samuel told The Baltimore Sun, “We’re supposed to be celebrating the New Year, but now I got to look forward to my brother in jail the rest of his life.”

While it is inappropriate to compare the heartache of a family member facing consequences for his actions to the Burkmans and Griffins having innocent family members taken from them forever, the family of the person committing the offense will have repercussions from a bad decision, too.

So, what can be done to stop drunk drivers from getting on the road? It is illegal for bars to over-serve (although this appears to have happened in this case), and while it could be a good idea to require breathalyzers at bars, there is nothing stopping drunk drivers from pretending to leave with someone sober or driving after closing time.

It all comes down to the fact that you must take personal responsibility for your actions, as well as those around you. Do not make yourself a criminal or victim through rash decisions, and think before you drink and drive.

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