by Jen Lynds
Like everyone else who hears that someone has been injured or killed in an accident or a fire or another manner, the first words that go through my mind are “I hope it isn’t somebody I know.”
As an Aroostook County native and a writer for the Bangor Daily News, I have a lot of time to think like that. I spend a chunk of time opening press releases emailed from police or fire departments or the Warden Service, detailing events such as car crashes, drownings, fatal accidents and homicides.
The phrase “I hope it isn’t somebody I know,” always returns, but it doesn’t have much impact anymore. That’s because I know that even if it is a stranger, I will still hurt for them and the loves ones they left behind. Years afterwards, I will find myself thinking of them.
It is especially hard not to think of one day last September.
That Saturday, I was opening a press release sent to the media by State Police Sgt. Brian Harris. It detailed a head on collision on U.S. Route 1 in Mars Hill, which killed one man and seriously injured another.
The victim, who died at the scene, was 51-year-old Nathan York of Medway. The man that was seriously injured was Herb Young, 52, of Mars Hill –a circulation district manager with the Bangor Daily News in Aroostook County.
According to Harris, Jerome York of Medway was northbound on the roadway in his 2001 Chrysler wagon. The 21-year old was the son of Nathan York, and he is also Herb Young’s nephew.
Jerome York’s vehicle collided head-on with a southbound 2010 Ford pickup driven by William Barton, 52, of Mars Hill.
I remember gasping when I read Herb’s name. That shock turned to anger when I saw the last line in the press release –that police alleged that Barton was operating under the influence.
The next morning, Sgt Harris sent out another press release to let us know that Barton had also been charged with possession of methamphetamine.
All of the occupants of both vehicles were wearing seat belts, but it did little to protect what Barton’s alleged actions have destroyed.
Herb Young suffered very severe injuries. It was a month before his condition in the hospital was upgraded from critical to fair. I wish that I could tell you that one year after the accident, he is happily back to work, but I can’t. He is quite simply still too sick.
Herb worked very hard and both of us were on the road often, so we did not get to see each other that much. When I did see him, however, he always had a smile to offer. He never walked into the office and failed to greet you. He cared about our company, about the quality of the product that we put out.
I can’t tell you how happy I was last October, when I helped out at a benefit dinner and auction for the Young family, which was organized by Jamie Guerrette, Tiffany Faulkner and a host of others.
It raised $28,000. That amount of money, however, is not uncommon in Aroostook County. This is the place where people do that. This is the place where if someone takes something from you, people quickly come forward to help give it back.
Barton has pleaded not guilty to his crimes. This past April, he was found in possession of marijuana, which was a violation of his bail conditions. He was incarcerated but quickly made bail. Now, he must adhere to round-the-clock house arrest with certain exceptions and has to continue to submit to random search and testing. He cannot use or possess alcohol or drugs.
He has requested a jury trial. Jury selection for County trials begins Sept. 4, but prosecutors are not sure if a jury will be chosen for Barton’s case, as there are several on the trial list before him.
This is not his first brush with the law. He has prior convictions for possession of marijuana, violating condition of release, assault and speeding 30-plus mph more than posted speed.
It is hard to know if Barton realizes how much he has taken from the Young and York families.
Do those who get behind the wheel while intoxicated understand that it isn’t just one person that they destroy? The death or serious injury of just one becomes a domino effect, chipping bits off the hearts of the parents, siblings, friends and others who love them.
“Time heals all wounds,” that old adage proclaims. I think that most people who have suffered a loss would disagree.
I know that organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and officials behind the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertisements and educational material to prevent drunk driving. But every time that I go to court, I see people charged with OUI, sometimes not even their first one. In Nov. 2011, I wrote a story about Milo C. White, a 56-year-old Weston man who was convicted of his 12th OUI charge and his ninth operating after revocation charge.
Assistant District Attorney Kurt Kafferlin argued for a substantial prison sentence.
“He will not stop drinking and driving,” he told the judge. “He hasn’t had a valid driver’s license in 27 years but he continues to drink and drive. He needs to be confined. He can’t control his drinking and he can’t stay off motor vehicles.”
He was ordered to serve nearly six years in prison for the crimes.
I recall telling my mother about seeing a woman in court who had been charged with her second OUI. The judge asked her if she had a drinking problem. She shook her head.
“Your second OUI and you don’t think you have a drinking problem?” asked the incredulous District Court Judge Bernard O’Mara.
Another head shake.
We know now that the DARE program has been deemed a failure, according to data released by the General Accounting Office and several other studies. The GAO released a review of current research regarding DARE and other drug abuse prevention programs, titled Youth Illicit Drug Use Prevention: DARE Long-Term Evaluations and Federal Efforts to Identify Effective Programs.
“In brief, the six long-term evaluations of the DARE elementary school curriculum that we reviewed found no significant differences in illicit drug use between students who received DARE in the fifth or sixth grade (the intervention group) and students who did not )the control group),” researchers found.
Evaluations given to students also revealed that all of them “suggested that DARE had no statistically significant long-term effect on preventing youth illicit drug use.”
I am sure that there are countless youth who were heavily impacted by the DARE program, and it is still being used in schools throughout the nation. Responding to criticism and research, they have revised their curriculum in the hopes of realizing a bigger impact.
In light of researchers’ findings, however, should it still be a part of the curriculum? Would money be better spent on other prevention programs?
In The County, there aren’t that many roads. There are two or three that most of us share. When an accident happens on one of those roads, one often thinks,“it could have been me,” because you were probably driving that route just a short time before.
There are few harsher realities than “it could have been me,” or “It could have been someone I love.”
But I think we must face it.
And because of that, we must act.
We have to help people get the message.
We have to take the keys. We have to promote choosing a designated driver. We have to spend more money on prevention and enforcement..
We have to take action for the victims who no longer can.
To learn more about the DARE program or MADD, click on the links included with the program names in this post.