The music was hot, the drinks were cold, and the people were friendly and full of life. Harry Adams walked off the dance floor, wiping his forehead with a napkin and headed for the bar in the corner of the room. “Gimme another whiskey and soda,” he said, leaning against the wood paneled counter. “Man, this is the best Christmas party the company ever put together,” he added, before raising the glass to his mouth. Three large gulps of the amber liquid and the ice was resting against his lips.
“Play it again, Sam,” he chuckled to the female bartender, who eyed him curiously as he pushed the glass toward her. The woman placed the drink in front of him and forced a smile. A man in a 3-piece suit came up behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Harry, didn’t you say you had to leave by nine?” “Oh, yeah, that’s right,” answered Harry, checking his watch. “I’m supposed to be at another party, and it’s a half-hour away. Well, I guess I’ll just have to put the pedal to the metal,” he giggled, quickly downing the fresh drink. “Are you okay to drive?” his friend asked sincerely. “Me? Are you kiddin’? There ain’t enough liquor in this place to diminish my driving skills,” he boasted. The bartender shook her head and frowned as she stuffed a towel in a glass and rotated it. A few minutes later, Harry was on the roadway, weaving slightly over the white lines as he watched them disappear quickly under the hood of his car. The sedative effect of the alcohol was slowing his reflexes and making him groggy.
A couple of miles ahead, on the opposite side of the two-lane highway, Tom and Cynthia Johnson were on their way home from shopping with their two children in the car. Tom could see erratic movements of a car in the distance. Its headlights seemed to be wavering from lane to lane. “Tom, be careful. That driver must be drunk,” Cynthia warned, looking over her shoulder to be sure her children were securely belted. “I’ve been watching him,” Tom assured her. “The guy’s all over the road.” Meanwhile, Harry was struggling to keep his eyes open as he leaned forward to get a better look at the starburst pattern ahead. Cynthia braced herself as the speeding machine headed toward them. “Tom!” she screamed. “He’s gonna hit us.” Her husband turned the wheel hard to the right, avoiding a head on collision, but the vehicle slammed into the driver’s side door, mangling the frame until it touched the doors on the opposite side and crushed the four occupants. No one survived the crash, and it was recorded as an accident.
But was it an accident? Not hardly! No more than it’s an accident to wave a loaded gun on a crowded street and fire shots randomly. Drinking and driving is a criminal act. The problem is; the drunken driving criminal is not as easy to spot. We don’t see their pictures in the post office or in the newspapers. We don’t see them on “America’s Most Wanted.” They’re the man or woman next door who appears to be a law-abiding citizen who would never intentionally hurt anyone. It would never occur to them to use a weapon against another human being. That’s because they don’t see their car as a weapon. Harry Adams was probably liked by all his neighbors, and loved by his friends. But Harry Adams was a murderer.
His weapon of choice was his car. There are thousands of murderers like Harry Adams and they take the lives of thousands of innocent people every year because of their insanely reckless mixing of alcohol with a ton of speeding metal. We can only imagine how many families will be wiped out during this holiday season. Harry Adams murdered the Johnson family. Yet, if he had lived, he would probably be tried for some degree of vehicular homicide and get off with a short prison term at most. He should be tried for first-degree murder. The law says there must be intent to kill for first degree. Well, Harry had intent in every stage of his actions that led to the death of that family. He intended to drink, he intended to drive, and he intended to speed in order to make it to the next party in time. To say that his mental state was reckless or criminally negligent is to give him a built-in defense if his behavior results in someone’s death. Harry was a grown man and presumably knew that his actions could kill people. It didn’t dissuade him from intentionally engaging in homicidal behavior.
Harry was a murderer. If the Johnson family still had a voice, I’m sure they’d agree.
Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor.