Just over two years ago, on February 9, 2007, our friend Daniel Vasquez was riding his bike home from work. He didn’t make it. Charles Seaborn, a man who’d been cited for drunk driving in the past, was once again driving drunk. Seaborn hit Daniel so hard that Daniel’s bike ended up embedded in the front of Seaborn’s Range Rover. But Seaborn didn’t stop. He left Daniel dying beside the road.
Daniel’s body wasn’t noticed until the sun came up the next morning. We went out for a run and saw them hauling his body out of the roadside weeds. We didn’t find out until hours later that it was Daniel.
Seaborn was arrested that same morning, but has managed to avoid facing the consequences of his actions for more than two years. That may soon be coming to an end. Seaborn has now made a deal. He’s pled “no contest” to vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and hit-and-run driving in exchange for a recommendation that he be sentenced to no more than five years in prison. The actual sentencing won’t happen until May 15.
Five years in prison isn’t a slap on the wrist, but a lot of cyclists and a lot of the people whose lives Daniel touched aren’t likely to think it a punishment sufficient to fit the crime. In a country where people routinely get ten and twenty year sentences for things like drug offenses, five years does seem a bit mild for mortally wounding someone and leaving him to die. But this isn’t what’s bothering us. We’re well aware that District Attorneys and courts place less value on our lives when we’re riding our bikes than they do at any other time.
We can’t honestly say we really care how long Mr. Seaborn does or does not sit in prison. What really irks us is the fact that people like Mr. Seaborn are allowed to drive cars in the first place and the fact that, when he gets out of prison, he’ll no doubt be right back behind the wheel.
What we don’t understand is how the “right” to drive has somehow become more sacrosanct than even personal freedom. Why is it that we’ll send someone to prison, but won’t tell them that their driving days are through? What exactly is the logic behind allowing people back behind the wheel after they’ve recklessly injured or killed (or even seriously threatened the lives of) others? Why are we so much more interested in punishing these people than we are in simply getting them off the road?
As far as we’re concerned, the first thing that should happen to someone who commits a crime like Mr. Seaborn’s is that they should lose their license forever. And people caught driving intoxicated should have their licenses suspended for much longer periods of time than is now the rule – permanently if the intoxication is severe enough, if they injure anyone, or if they have a second offense. Driving should be understood to be a privilege. Abuse that privilege and lose it. Those caught driving after their licenses have been suspended or revoked are the ones who really need to be jailed in the interest of public safety.
So Daniel is gone. He touched a lot of people’s lives, he’s sorely missed by many, and we’re disgusted that he lost his life in such a pointless and unnecessary way. We don’t know Mr. Seaborn, but we’re sorry he’s made such a mess of his own life and brought so much sorrow to so many. We wish him well and we sincerely hope he reaches a place where he can become the kind of asset to the community that Daniel was. We just hope he finds a way to do it that doesn’t involve driving.