If ever in doubt that drinking and driving can change lives forever, sit in on a court case dealing with a choice that led to one person being responsible for the death of another – the death of a friend.
It happens all too often, and in every community.
The death is never the anticipated ending of whatever night on the town or social event preceded the tragedy.
But it is always a risk when the choice is made to drink and drive.
And while statistics show fewer people are making that choice, the number of related deaths won’t be a reason to celebrate until it hits zero.
Three years ago, Sean Fleming made the choice to drive after drinking, took that risk – and he’ll pay dearly for it for the rest of his life.
In court Tuesday, Fleming was sentenced to 18 months in jail for impaired driving causing death in connection with the Feb. 14, 2009 crash that killed his friend, Tony Blackburn.
Fleming’s pain at knowing he caused his friend’s death was profoundly evident. He was shaking, wiping tears from his cheeks and couldn’t face the parents and siblings of his friend, all of whom sat in a row behind him for the duration of the afternoon hearing.
Those in attendance heard about the deep depression Fleming fell into and has remained in since the tragedy, burdened inconsolably with the reality of what he had done.
But Fleming wasn’t the only one in pain Tuesday. It was an almost tangible presence that hung over the proceedings, as Fleming’s parents received confirmation their son was going to jail, and as Blackburn’s family and a close friend shared the impact the loss of their son and brother’s life has had.
After sentencing, Fleming delivered an emotional and unexpected apology to the Blackburns, one that clearly brought both sides some relief. Blackburn’s family said after court that it brought them a level of peace they had been missing in the years since the crash.
Unfortunately, it won’t bring Tony Blackburn back, and it won’t change for Fleming the fact that he killed somebody, unintentional though it was.
As Judge Robin Baird told Fleming, it is a very heavy burden to bear, and perhaps the worst punishment of all.
To say that everyone involved has lived a nightmare is an understatement.
We can only hope that others will learn from the needless tragedy, from the torment endured.
Otherwise, Blackburn’s death and all the pain that continues to follow it, will be for nothing.