Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Drinking, Texting and Driving

On the afternoon of August 9th in California bar a man drank 5 shots of whiskey and 2 large beers. In another part of town a family prepared enchiladas with other members of Sacred Heart Church to serve to the homeless at a lunch that week.

These two stories intersect in a tragic fashion as Christa Balch stopped at a red light on her way home. Her sister was in the passenger seat, and her two young children (Sebastian, 4 yrs and Ava, 2yrs) were in the back seat of her Honda. Dion Thomas Gussner was twice the legal limit (.16), while driving his pickup truck when he picked up his phone to send a text message. Preliminary reports stated there were no skid marks at the scene. Gussner said he didn't see the Balch's car until it was too late, and he rear ended the Balch's car travelling at approximately 55 mph.

Little Sebastian was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. Christa and Ava were flown to the hospital with serious as well as minor injuries. Christa is a doctor and underwent surgery to attempt to repair her wrist. However, Christa's wrist is paralyzed. The family is struggling to deal with Sebastian's death, and the community is rallying around them.

It is unclear if Gussner's drunk driving is the reason for the accident, or if the texting and driving was also a contributing factor. What is clear is that together drunk driving and texting and driving are a deadly mix. A sober driver has "inattention blindness" when texting and driving. A drunk driver would have even less judgement on how long their eyes were off the road, and would have less of a sense if they had drifted over a lane line, or if traffic was a stop ahead of them.

A remorseful Gussner had eyes red and a bowed head as he agreed to receive the maximum penalty of 16 years in prison for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, causing great bodily injury in the crash and injuring multiple victims.

This story comes from a good friend who has ties to the Balch family.

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