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Our roads: Shaken, not stirred

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Here’s mud in your eye!  Wet your whistle!  Bottoms up!  Let’s have one for the road!  One for the road?  A common toast made in reference to raising that glass and subsequently raising one’s blood alcohol content a few more notches.  
As your typical drunk stumbles to his car, what exactly does he have in mind for the road? More than one-third of yearly traffic fatalities are alcohol related (nearly 14,000 deaths).  This is almost the same as our nation’s murder rate, but death on the highway isn’t murder.  It’s “vehicular homicide.”
I always liked that term.  Kind of makes it sound like your car was responsible, doesn’t it? New Mexico boasts one of the highest per-capita statistics for alcohol related traffic fatalities in the nation.  What is it about our blue skies that “drives” people to drink so much over here?
Maybe we’re just fun people.  You know, a party-hardy state who enjoys one for the road?  
Our state motto should be “Crescit Eundo Ebrius.”
The recent acquittal of Scott Owens has had one positive “sobering” effect in our area.  
More people are lowering their glasses and raising their eyebrows, wondering how the deaths of four teens could so easily be discarded like a stale beer.
The mother of one of the killed teens said of Owens, “I hope he learns from this.”
Anyone want to bet?  Scott already had a DWI conviction under his belt, and yet he chose to take several more belts before driving that early Sunday morning. In his first DWI conviction, his blood alcohol level was 0.15.   
Four hours after this fatal crash, his blood alcohol level was 0.16.  Some people just don’t learn. Many people have openly criticized the jury for their verdict.  Trace Rabern, a criminal defense attorney in Santa Fe, defended the jury and said, “They did a harder thing than you can imagine!”
Well, let me think about this.  I imagine that it might have been harder for the coroner to drag the bloody bodies onto a table for inspection.  I imagine that it might have been harder for the parents to identify the bodies of their children. I imagine that it might have been harder for friends and families to attend the funerals.
Yeah, Trace.  Maybe, just maybe, there are some things harder than passing judgment.
Actually, it’s quite hard to find someone guilty and send them to jail.  But let’s be honest.  You’re a defense attorney and your job is getting people off, innocent or not.  Let’s not use wordplay to detract from the real tragedy here.
Absolute proof in alcohol related accidents is a hard thing and no one will ever know what really happened.  Not even Owens (he claims that he blacked out at the time of the crash).  But what is known for a fact is that a drunk was on the road, a drunk with a previous DWI, and four teens are dead. What is also known for a fact is that this is not an isolated case.  Drunk drivers have sobering strategies for avoiding prosecution.  
Search “DWI” on the internet and one of the first hits is the N.M. Legal Group, a “family” law firm that banners “Tough local attorneys working to beat your DWI in New Mexico.” Another lawyer’s website states, “Arrested for DWI?  We can help you fight it fast!” Remember the Moises Gonzales case back in 1985?  With a blood alcohol content of 0.16, he broadsided a car on Cerrillos Road, killing three teenagers.  The defense for Gonzales was practically identical to that for Owens.  
The teenagers were blamed for the accident and Gonzales’ inebriated condition was considered unrelated to the crash. With that “reasonable doubt,” charges were dropped against Gonzales. Did Gonzales learn from this?  One can “reasonably doubt” it.  
Twenty years later, Gonzales plead guilty to his eighth DWI charge. So you see, Trace, it really is easy to imagine something even harder to stomach — with Scott Owens’ acquittal — we now have one more for the road.  
 
 John Pawlak
Los Alamos columnist