Community Ombudsman: Bad decisions may end life, but don’t define itWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
I have personally known two young people who have died in alcohol-related crashes. Neither of them is remembered solely for drinking and driving. But neither can escape its imprint.
The first was a brand-new reporter who had I worked with for one week. He drove drunk that first weekend – and died.
Right away, his family was angry at our paper (his paper) for reporting that alcohol was suspected in the accident. It was untrue. We were wrong. The officer was mistaken.
As it turns out, alcohol was involved. It made mourning messy. There was sadness surrounding the loss of a young life; anger that he did something reckless; bitterness that we reported it.
The family worried about his memory being tainted. The good he had done being discounted. The joy he had given to his family and friends being forgotten.
The second accident involved a childhood friend. The family was much more matter-of-fact. They didn’t deny it; they sadly accepted it, even expressed anger at him for making such a deadly decision.
But in both cases there was a different feeling surrounding their deaths. It was sad, but these men made a bad decision, and in some cases, I sensed relief.
The relief usually came from people who started to think about their own mortality and comforted themselves by thinking, “This will not happen to me – or my children – because we don’t drink and drive.”
Until we – or they – do.
Brian Hoeflinger, an Ottawa Hills High School senior, died Feb. 2. He had been drinking and driving. When I read that, I immediately thought about an otherwise good life marred by a mistake that many of us have made and don’t die for.
As to be expected, his family didn’t want alcohol to be mentioned in the media coverage. Unfortunately, it had to be reported. When someone gets in an accident, the next obvious question is always, “What might have caused it?” To omit crucial parts of the story would be a disservice to the readers and to our profession. That goes for alcohol, texting, speeding or any other bad driving decision.
I don’t know Brian. From what I read, he sounds smart, athletic and fun to be around.
While drunken driving ended his life, it doesn’t define his whole life. Please remember there is a difference.
And when the media gets blamed for reporting the truth about an accident, remember this: The anger should really be directed at people who judge a whole person’s life by one decision, albeit a bad one.