“Have you ever driven while drunk?” a young lawyer asked me. “Have you known anyone who has received a DUI? Are you or anyone close to you a police officer?” The questions were easy to answer, and yet one by one potential jurors were dismissed from the case. Of those left, I was the youngest of the “chosen” to preside over a three-day period of both sides presenting evidence of a young Hispanic man accused of driving while drunk. Of course, it was my unfortunate intuition that proved me right when my number was chosen as the alternative juror, so I was not allowed to determine the fate of the accused – a young and stupid person who had over twelve beers in his system, but who was never actually seen driving. He claimed he had walked home, lost his house keys, so let himself into a broken-down car and fallen asleep in the driver’s seat, where he was found by a police officer.
In the case of Camille A. Spink of Everett, the accused will not get off with a not-guilty verdict. Two people have already died because of Camille’s decisive action to drink over her known limit and then proceed to drive, with the intention of arriving at a bar, no less. Sheena Blair was one of the victims this past winter.
Sheena Blair’s death rocked Pierce County locals – hundreds knew Sheena directly, and thousands of others indirectly through her father, Frank Blair, a local radio talk show host who always glowed about his two beautiful daughters to whoever would listen to him. Since the February 26, 2010 deaths, thousands are experiencing the raw pain of Frank Blair through his Facebook updates, radio shows, emails, and personal encounters.
I haven’t seen Frank since we met up at Tacoma’s Bull’s Eye shooting range for a few rounds of target practicing right before Sheena’s death. As we were taste-testing whose doughnuts were better, Frank told me I should meet Sheena as he knew we’d be fast friends. A few months later, Chris called to tell me Sheena had been killed the night before, hit by Camille A. Spink, who knowingly drove while intoxicated.
A fellow friend’s pain hurts to the core. How do you provide comfort to someone who has lost one of the most precious gifts? “I’m so sorry,” repeated thousands of times must either hurt or keep you chilled inside.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Sheena or Frank. I had to tell the story to everyone I met, just to keep the sadness from rotting my insides. In March, I went to a hairdresser and yet again told the tragic events. My hairdresser, who is usually a very chatty individual, went stone-cold silent. The next thing I felt were hot tears falling on my neck, and a soft sob escaping her lips. My hairdresser, a 30-something woman, was grief-stricken. I suddenly felt like a priest as I listened to her spill her guts regarding her three DUI’s. I was incredulous, then angry. Who in their right minds could have three DUI’s? For the next hour my hair was in a firm grip as she told me how stupid she had been and how sorry and told me to tell Frank she promises to never, ever, drink and drive.
Frank Blair is developing a grass-roots campaign to lobby the Washington State Legislature to accomplish two tasks: the first has to do with enforcement, adjudication and incarceration of drunk drivers. The second has to do with providing people who drink with reasonable accommodation and a viable alternative to driving while intoxicated. To support Frank and his request to the State Legislature, become a follower of his blog, write your state representatives, and most importantly, write to the Judge presiding over the sentencing of Camille A. Spink. Ask for the maximum sentence.
I try hard to not dwell on our loss, I get up every day and do what I’m supposed to do. Some days it’s almost robotic, some days feel almost “normal”. People ask if some days are better than others. I tell them that it’s more like some days suck less than others. This is NOT getting easier. It is NOT going away. The first couple months, some “things” or some kind of trigger would set me off. Like Sheena’s stuff or a benchmark day. Now I get sad for no particular, specific reason. These God Damn sunny days get to me. We used to pack up the family and the dogs and go places. We still do, not as much, but it’s not the same. I wish it would rain. I wish for thunderstorms, but that would rain on everyone else.
I DO have ways to cope. I can write. I can beat my drum and pray for strength. I can also vent through two 15″ JBL D140Fs and a 100 watt 42 year old bass amp. I can turn it WAY up and just hit an open E chord and let it sustain. It’s like screaming, but it doesn’t hurt your voice. I can bang out speed metal riffs over and over. It’s cleansing. OR I can turn on the chorus and play melodic, lyrical phrases, it’s soothing.
One thing I am NOT doing is self-medicating. Thank God. I am NOT making any major decisions. For the first time in memory, I am avoiding crowds. I don’t know when a wave of sadness will come; I have NO control over my emotions. I allow myself to be sad, I don’t force stoicism. When I write, I try to be honest and not hyperbolic or self-indulgent. When people ask how I’m doing I try to NEVER say “fine” because I am NOT fine. For the first time in my life, I cry more than I laugh.
I miss Sheena more than I thought possible. I allow myself to grieve. I do my best to not wallow in it or obsess. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to function at all and if I didn’t physically force myself to go out and do stuff, I could easily sink into a deep depression that could lead to a catatonic mental paralysis. I can’t do that, I have responsibilities. Amy [Frank’s daughter] for one, my own health for another. Besides, the alleged perpetrator got one of us, that’s ALL she gets.
So that’s how I’m doing. For those of you who think I’m all strong and stuff, I appreciate the sentiment, but I actually feel like a scared man struggling to maintain my grip. I feel like a gelatinous mass of sorrow. I was sitting on my front porch yesterday and saw a little red car drive down 80th street. For a split second, I thought “Sheena’s home”, I catch myself doing that once in a while. It hurts….again. This is all normal I’ve been told, but it doesn’t make it easier. It’s not supposed to be easy, it’s not.
If you wish to join Frank in solidarity, please submit your comments on Frank’s blog, http://franksblog.org/ and volunteer your time, writing and/or lobbying skills and let’s get Sheena’s Bill passed.