Court - What I shared with the fellow that changed our lives

The following information is what I shared with the teen that struck me in August 2004 at his sentencing in January 2005. This was both given to him verbally and in the form of a letter, so that he could have time to fully process the information shared. I was able to go to court that day to share a bit about myself with him, not out of bitterness - as you will read, but out of sincere hope that he indeed would be able to change his life - to make something beautiful come of it.
Most unfortunately, to date that has not been the case....

He was sentenced that day to six months in prison after pleading guilty to vehicular assault. He was out of jail in four months for good behavior. Since then he has struggled with alcohol. Three to four convictions as a minor in possession of alcohol, the last instance providing alcohol to other minors.  In 2007, he was found guilty of reckless arson; after being asked to leave a party on Bainbridge Island while under the influence of alcohol, he broke into a truck and set it on fire. While awaiting sentencing for that offense he was charged with a DUI - found off road in the bushes behind the wheel of a car with two readings of 0.24 and 0.26 (with 0.08 being legally intoxicated) in late September of 2007. He changed his plea to 'guilty', and in January 2008 was sentenced under Washington State's new felony DUI law to 20 months in prison.  He is now also the father of a child born at the end of 2007.

My family and I were deeply depressed after hearing of his first minor in possession charge some months after he got out of jail. I had really prayed for a significant change in his life....yet, thus far that has not been the case. Over several weeks then, back in 2005, we as a family realized that even though we continue to have hope for him - our lives must continue on regardless of his future decisions and actions. We had to move on as best we could to the life we now had before us, and could not allow ourselves to be pulled down further by his failures.

My intention now is to do as much as I can to keep our roads and others safe. While I do not necessarily agree that jail is the best place to be rehabilitated, it will allow him time again to think and process what he has done; and perhaps soon someday to really change. His being there also keeps our roads and others lives a bit safer over this time.
Onto my comments from 2005..........

January 18, 2005

Dear _______,

This letter is to summarize the things I have said to you today in court.

First, a few details about myself. I am 46 years old and have been married for 22 years to my sweetheart Gwen Franz. We have 3 wonderful children: Evan – 14, Daniel – 12, and Heidi – 10. We have lived on Bainbridge Island for 17 years. My wife is a professional musician, a violist, who has performed often with the Seattle Symphony. We love travel, backpacking, bicycling and are very involved with our church family on Bainbridge. We have sought out ways to give to, and serve others. Last year our family went with a large group from Bainbridge to Tijuana, Mexico to build homes for the poor and to work with those in drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Prior to my injury, I had volunteered as “the doctor in the house” at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall nine times last concert season to attend to any medical emergencies. We are grateful to our church family and community who have provided an outpouring of love to us during this crisis. I have been an Emergency Room physician for 17 years and worked at Harrison Hospital in Bremerton, and Swedish Hospital before moving my full time practice to Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center in 2003. I have treated over 50,000 patients in my career. I come from a family devoted to serving other people, and since age 12 I was determined to become a doctor. This dream took me 18 years to complete. I am passionate about taking care of the sick and injured at a point of crisis in their lives. Yet I have always understood how fragile and tenuous life can be; and have made every effort to be careful in all that I did. I also felt it was vital for me to be a role model to my patients, and this further led me to a very healthy and active lifestyle.

This accident has changed our lives forever. While I continue to make progress, it is very difficult – by far the most agonizing 5 months in my life. My 8 rib fractures, liver laceration, 2 spine fractures, right leg fracture, and both compound/open fractures of my upper arms have healed. Yet, my left and right arm nerve injures and two spinal cord injuries are slow to heal; and no one knows how much recovery I will obtain. I am left with significant weakness and spasm in my legs, and particularly in my arms. My sensation is also very poor in all extremities, such that I can barely feel my left leg. I can lift 3 pounds with my right arm, and 1 pound with my left. I am using a walker to get around, but require constant supervision inside and outside of our home to avoid falling. I am not yet able to dress myself; I am not able to get out of bed on my own; I cannot get myself on or off the toilet; I must wear a Depends diaper when away from home as I still do not have complete ability to control my bladder function. My wife must assist me in giving me medications and in helping me with a bowel program. I cannot get myself off the floor. I can get up and down stairs with another person supporting me. My wife has become my full time caregiver and she herself cannot work as my needs are too great. Her years of education and intense training to develop a refined skill have by necessity, been put on hold.

Although I hope to return to my job again, it is quite possible that I may not. Emergency Medicine practice requires that I have adequate strength, agility and sensation to reduce dislocations and fractures, suture wounds, perform CPR, control someone’s airway by placing a tube into their lungs, and to perform several life saving surgical procedures – all of which I cannot do, and may never do as I am only perhaps 10-15% recovered toward these standard skills. Since my injury the remaining physicians at Virginia Mason’s Emergency Department, who are salaried employees, have been working 2 extra days per month at no extra pay to cover my shifts. This kindness cannot go on indefinitely, as at some point I may need to be replaced. If I were to re-train to another field in medicine it would require 3 years of education and moving to a new location; and this would only be possible if my motor and sensory function improve dramatically.

_______, the impact of this tragedy is perhaps impossible to fully explain, or for you to comprehend. The stress this has placed upon my wife, our children and our extended family is very difficult to bear. My life and health has been broken, shattered. My mission in life, to the sick and injured, has been taken from me at least for now. My ability to earn a living and provide for my family as a responsible husband and father is severely threatened. While I am a follower of Jesus and His teachings and believe in forgiveness, I can say to you that I am working on forgiving you for what you have done to me and our family. I hope to someday soon be able to say I have completely forgiven you for all you have caused. The only satisfaction I may obtain from this disaster would be for you, _______, to make something beautiful come out of your life. I continue to pray for you, that your words and actions may prevent others from causing a similar tragedy. That your life may be changed forever for the better. That you too, may seek forgiveness from God.

Your Honor, given the losses my family and I have suffered I am hoping that justice will be brought to this situation. Not so much for my sake, as I take no satisfaction in revenge, but for the sake of other youth in our community who are also underage drinkers and drivers. They need to know that severe consequences await those who not only break the law by drinking underage, but for recklessly endangering lives by drinking and driving. I have seen the consequences as an emergency physician, and now felt them as a victim.

_______, there are people here willing to speak on your behalf as to what a good person you are. You may very well be that good person - - when you are sober. You have shown us, however, that when you drink you have little control over the amount to such a degree that in your own words you “see only bits and pieces of the accident”. Despite the tragic death of your friend due to drinking and driving two days prior to my accident, _______ you failed to learn from that lesson, and yourself chose to drink and drive resulting in this additional tragedy. I would take great hope and relief in knowing that you, _______ will get the help and rehabilitation you need to become a safe, healthy and responsible citizen; and as this citizen, be able to give back to your community that has supported us thru this crisis.

Trackbacks (0) Links to blogs that reference this article Trackback URL
Comments (0) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end