What do you get when you combine twice the legal limit of alcohol, a Sunday drive on country roads, and a systemic social acceptance of casual drinking and driving?
The question, tragically, isn’t so much what you get but what you lose.
For the Neville-Lake family, the loss has been astronomic and while the death toll stands at four, the true impact of last Sunday’s Vaughan crash isn’t quantifiable.
Four lives gone but countless others irreversibly transformed. The accused is a fiancée whose October 17 wedding day is a distant memory. There’s a mother whose three babies are gone, along with her father. Eight of the 15 first responders on the scene so shaken by the accident that they’re taking leave for PTSD.
“I’ve never seen a case where we’ve had this number of paramedics affected,” Iain Park, deputy chief for York Region EMS, said.
We don’t know exactly what Marco Muzzo, 29, was thinking before he careened through a stop sign and slammed his jeep into the side of a full minivan, killing a grandfather and his three grandchildren, ages 2, 5 and 9.
We can’t be certain that he was distracted or that his prior driving infractions, from cell phone use to speeding, were a precursor to this tragedy.
We don’t know if the alcohol in his blood was left over from an all-nighter at his Las Vegas bachelor party the night before or if he imbibed at brunch prior to takeoff or even if he’s a nervous flyer who has a drink (or two, or four) to calm his nerves.
But we know this: Muzzo had more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his bloodstream. That’s more than enough to impair judgment, diminish reflexes, miss a stop sign and kill four people around 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. The grandson of a billionaire property developer may walk because the affluent family will buy the best lawyers. Maybe Muzzo is an entitled millennial whose privileged upbringing caused selfish behaviour.
But we should be asking why this happened. Surely from the time Muzzo left Vegas with his buddies to the time he got in his car at the airport, someone had the sense to wonder if he was fine to drive.
In my adult years, I’ve witnessed the acceptance of “casual” drinking and driving play out in numerous social settings. The jolly uncle who likes to tie one on. The sensible best friend who enjoys her chardonnay. If someone isn’t belligerent, obliterated, blind drunk, they must be fine, right?
I’ve stood by idle, despite my better judgment, and not said anything when my internal alarm system was chiming, warning that a friend or family member might have had too much to drink.
Miraculously, these situations never resulted in tragic loss of life. Muzzo, the Neville-Lakes, their communities, and the first responders traumatized by the events were not as lucky.
Has a declining rate of drunk driving incidents made us complacent? After all, numbers from StatsCan’s 2012 The Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, the most recent stats available, show the incident rate in Canada declining from 2008 to 2012.
Did we hang up our hats on drunk driving and switch the rhetoric to texting and driving, the dangerous driving problem du jour? Or have people always shied away from spoiling the party and asking the uncomfortable question: are you OK to drive?
Let this be a wake-up call that casual drinking and driving of any degree will always be unacceptable.