No one wants to think about the aftermath – about what will happen after the fact. It is hard to put yourself in that position if it is something you have never experienced. As a Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney, we try to protect the interests of our clients even before they become clients, whenever possible. We tell people to be prepared just in case. Prevention is always better than reaction, yet, that is all too often not the case. We can only wish we had a crystal ball to predict the future before it happened – in the hopes of preventing another tragedy from occurring.
As parents, we talk to our children until we are blue in the face:
- Don’t drink and drive
- Don’t talk to strangers
- Always wear a seatbelt
- Never have more people in the car than there are seatbelts
- Stay off of internet chat sites
- Don’t text and drive
- Never leave your cup or glass unattended when out at a nightclub or bar
- Don’t accept food, drink, drugs from strangers
- Say “NO” to drugs
- Do not play with guns
Watch: What you need to know if arrested for DUI in Fort Lauderdale?
Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney, Robert Malove explains in this video what to do if arrested for DUI offense.
And, the list goes on and on. We get tired of saying it, and they get tired of hearing it. But – there are reasons why we keep repeating ourselves. We think it is just for their protection, but, in the end, it is also for our own. We are protecting our hearts, hopes, dreams, finances, sanity, and futures.
Most of the time, the message gets through – thankfully. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. All too often stories emerge of a night out going awry, and then we have to step in to sort out and pick up the pieces. These are the times when being a criminal defense attorney can be heartbreaking. Lives are turned upside down, pulled apart, and, in some instances, ruined forever.
This article is about the aftermath, the fallout – because the only thing we can sometimes do is learn from the past. It is also about what we can do to prepare ahead of time for the aftermath.
The following stories are real and have been culled from interviews, or information found on the internet – the names and places have been omitted or changed to protect those who are involved. The hope is that future lives can be spared, and, perhaps, someone, somewhere will take away something important from the loss, devastation, and change many of these families have experienced.
The Night 4 Friends Became 3 Strangers
This is an example of how DUI – driving under the influence – can tear lives apart forever.
The ride back to college from visiting families was uneventful. There would be a party at a sorority that evening, and the two couples could not wait to spend time with friends. Although sober when they arrived, hours later they climbed back into the pickup truck completely drunk. The driver, his girlfriend, and the other couple, with the girl sitting on her boyfriend’s lap, started the 15-mile drive back to someone’s apartment.
Before you know it, there was a collision with an overhead sign on the expressway before the truck flipped over. The girl sitting on her boyfriend’s lap went through the windshield and died at the scene. The jaws of life would have to remove the driver from his spot, as his legs were crushed in the wreckage. There were other injuries among those who survived – broken arms, broken legs, cuts, bruises, injured pelvis – but the three survived.
Two girls who had been best friends were now separated by death. A visit in a dream later that night would help one to release any survivor guilt as she was told not to be sorry, her friend was in a place she wanted to be.
For the survivors, life as they knew it would never be the same. For the remaining l, sorority life soon became a thing of the past as the frivolity no longer held any meaning once the injuries had healed and life could resume “normally” – although 16 surgeries over time could never be considered normal. A change of schools and career path would be forthcoming. Although she had been with her boyfriend the night of his fateful decision to drink and drive occurred, that was the last time she saw or spoke to him.
Attorneys were contacted, lawsuits were set in place, and even the driver’s family tried to make it seem as though his girlfriend had been behind the wheel. This young lady who had been devastated by the loss of her best friend, the separation from a boyfriend she once loved and the physical pain she was going through now had to defend her innocence, as well. People who once cared for each other were now adversaries.
Tragedy can bring out the best and the worst in people, and, when something like this happens, the wagons often start circling, although this is often the worst part of the job. It is upsetting to watch people who once were close become separated as a consequence of exercising poor judgment and making a bad decision. As a side note to this tragedy, there are many good people in the world. A doctor at the hospital overheard the family of the surviving girl talk about how they would have to relocate for a month to be near their daughter and worry about where the money would come from while they were not working. The doctor made some calls and arranged for a condo to be available for their use. Stop for a moment and ask yourself what you would do if this situation happened to you.
A Day on the River Turns Tragic on the Road
There was beer and vodka as the group of friends floated down the river on that hot, summer day. When the warm, half-filled bottle of vodka was passed around, many just handed it off to the next person, leaving it for only a few of the boys to drink. When they were finished on the river, they hiked an hour back to the car. One of the young men appeared to be sober on the walk and said he was okay to drive.
Obviously, that was not the case. There were 5 in that car – two boys in the front and two boys and a girl in the back. Although the boy in the front and the girl both told the driver to slow down, and he did so temporarily, the front tire eventually clipped the center divider, and the next thing that happened was the car spinning violently out of control and a telephone pole in the distance grew alarmingly closer.
Two died on that sad day – the girl and one of the boys in the back seat. Anger and blame were high on the list of what happened soon afterwards – not from the other two boys, but from their families. Once again, families and friendships were severed. Letter campaigns were started, asking for the maximum sentence, although, for the survivors, this did not seem right. They knew their friends would not have wanted it that way. It was an unfortunate accident. Others in the community were unhappy with the sides that were taken. Now a whole community was getting involved in a conflict that started out between only a few parties.
Unfortunately, these stories play out across the country all the time. Alcohol, drugs, and driving do not go together. Texting and talking on the phone are just as dangerous. Here in South Florida, we see tragic accidents happen all of the time. A criminal defense attorney is often called to deal with the aftermath of these kinds of tragic events.
The Emotional Impact for Family and Friends
The first thing people often think about at times like this is survivor’s guilt. The “why them and not me” feelings often surface and can keep a person a prisoner of his or her own mind for the rest of their life.
There is an equally heavy emotional toll on the family and friends of those involved. How many parents have repeated these mantras to their children over and over:
- DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE
- DO NOT USE YOUR PHONE TO TEXT OR TALK WHILE DRIVING
- ALWAYS WEAR A SEATBELT
It is not necessary to repeat the entire list again, you get the idea. Did the message just not get through? Did these kids think they were invincible, as so many of their generation seem to believe? Were they too drunk or high to remember to use good judgment? Do we beat ourselves up, do we get angry at our kids who may be fighting for their lives, or do we just thank G-d that they are still with us?
For most people, it is often a little bit of everything, as shown in the following excerpt from healthtalk.org:
People experienced many different, powerful emotions at different stages of the patient’s illness such as when they’d found out the illness or injury was life threatening, when they’d lived in the uncertainty of not knowing whether the patient would survive, when the patient continually improved and deteriorated, when the patient showed signs of progress, and if they’d had to deal with death and bereavement. Shock, sadness, hope, relief, acceptance and joy were common emotions, depending on the patient’s condition and what they’d known about it, at the time.
Without any warning, lives are thrown into chaos. Aside from the obvious worries about the injuries, paralysis, brain damage, and even worrying if the person will survive; there are also frightening thoughts of other family members that must be cared for, pets that may be at home, jobs, bills, and a host of concerns that can take away from the matter at hand.
Prevention is the Best Action
I see the upheaval these types of events can have on a family. For many, life will never return to the same way again. Between 2003 and 2012, 8,476 people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver in Florida. In 2012, Florida exceeded the national average for deaths in the 21 – 34 year-old age group, the largest percentage of drunk driving deaths.
Why am I providing this information? It is not to scare you or make you hurry home after work to hug your children, although that should be a part of daily life if you still have children at home.
No, the purpose of this article is to help you prepare for something that will hopefully never occur. When children are young, they come home with a homework assignment to make a fire exit plan. How will they get out of the house in the case of a fire? We teach them Plan A and Plan B, and make sure they know how to stop, drop, and roll.
Now it is time to create a Plan A and Plan B strategy with them to help them avoid stupid mistakes, peer pressure, and the dangers that await them out in the real world. We have to remind them that their drunk friends do not have their best interest in mind, but we, as parents do.
When accidents or unfortunate situations occur, people go running to “lawyer up” and get their attorneys involved. It is essential to protect the innocent while also protecting the rights of the person at fault, and ensuring that the truth comes out. Unfortunately, some people will lie to protect their own well-being – that is an ugly side of human nature.
Discuss with your child what to do if they find themselves in a situation that they think could put them in danger and instruct them to call you as soon as possible. Even more important, prepare yourself to be protected in situations such as these. The worst things in life can happen to anyone, and being prepared is crucial.
We have homeowners insurance in case of a hurricane or break in. You probably have the name and number of a plumber in the event of a leak, or a roofer when a storm pulls off your shingles. But, do you know who to call if you or your child is pulled over for DUI, or in the case of an accident? Be prepared – be proactive before anything occurs because you will not be thinking clearly if heaven forbid it happens.
Hopefully, you will never need the services of a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney for DUI defense, but, if you do, I will be here to help.