This column originally appeared as a special to the Kenosha News, Sunday Mornings With Basil Willis, May, 29, 2011.
We were awakened Saturday morning at 1 am by pounding on the door and the phone ringing. Beth and I looked at each other, and without saying anything we both slipped out of bed. She quietly answered the call as I grabbed a weapon from the night stand and crept toward the stair case.
A Kenosha police dispatcher was calling; there was an officer at the door. I put the weapon away, quickly put on a robe and thought, “This can’t be good.”
I opened the door to a foggy night of flashing lights, crackling radios and an officer saying something about an accident, and be careful because there was damage to the house. We live on a curve. A drunk driver thought the road was straight.
Normally we park our cars in the garage, but we’d just had a rummage sale so they were in our driveway. Beth’s car was knocked into the front yard. My car, my beloved car, the first one I bought new and picked out all the options on and had meticulously cared for and fully paid off, was twisted like an empty beer can smashed against the forehead of a redneck. It was embedded in our garage door and the side of our house, and I knew instantly it was not fixable.
As I walked slowly around our driveway, my slippers crunching broken glass with each step, I vaguely heard Beth behind me unleash a sixty second stream of expletives that would have made a sailor blush. She composed herself and apologized to the officer on site, who said he understood, before dropping another flurry of F bombs. I said nothing, too stunned to speak, and just stared at the carnage.
The drunk driver who smashed into our cars and house, then fled, did us a favor by leaving her front license plate in our yard. The police ran the plate and quickly apprehended the driver, who lives two blocks from us and was already at home. She was brushing the airbag dust out of her hair when officers knocked on her door. Amongst the wreckage we also found the iconic leaping Jaguar hood ornament from the offender’s vehicle, which Beth is having made into a necklace and will wear at the woman’s sentencing.
When questioned by police about the incident, she told them she’d had a bad day at work. She failed her field sobriety test, then blew a .18 on the breathalyzer. Thank you for sharing your bad day with us.
The Kenosha police were absolutely fantastic, and their excellence makes me proud. These guys were awesome, and like teachers and other public workers, they don’t get paid or appreciated enough. A special shout out to Officer Tetrick, who had the unenviable task of having to manage this scene. My wife and the neighbor who originally called police both thought he was cute and smelled nice. I know I’m getting old because to me he looked like he was about sixteen, but he handled the situation, and our shock, like a grizzled vet. I’m glad he was there.
So now we pick up the pieces. Beth’s insurance company, one based in Madison with a familiar jingle, covers our house and her car and has been exceptional. My auto insurance company, one with a reptilian mascot that speaks with a Cockney accent, has been absolutely horrible. One of the lessons we take from this experience is how nice it is to have a local agent to work with, and not a faceless 800 number. It’s a little more expensive, but we will be transferring all our policies under one roof.
My insurance company is badly lowballing me on what my car is really worth, which has caused me to quickly become an expert in the shady world of total loss reimbursement and car valuation gimmicks.
There are things we can’t get back. By the time this is over we will have invested hundreds of hours and thousands of our own dollars. Plans had to be canceled, including a surprise birthday party for Beth in Madison that night. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel completely safe standing in our driveway, and will be quick to turn my head every time I hear a car coming down the street. I have already installed video surveillance.
What keeps haunting me is the idea of someone being inside those wrecked cars. Drunk driving happens every day, it is all around us, but just like cancer you don’t really understand until it invites itself into your life and sits on your lap. The anger and revulsion I feel pales in comparison to what a person who has lost a loved one to a drunk driver must go through. The feeling of having something taken from you, while you’re asleep no less, is gut-wrenching.
In our case, it’s all just stuff. Cars can be replaced and our house can be put back together. We were lucky in many ways; the drunk driver’s license plate fell off allowing us to catch her, she was insured, and we were lucky our cars were in the driveway and essentially blocked our house from serious structural damage. Most importantly, no one was hurt. We also met many of our neighbors. There was quite a scene in our driveway the morning after as everyone woke up and took in the horror.
Thank you neighbors. Thank you Kenosha PD. And please, if you’ve had a bad day and need a drink, figure out a way to do so without driving. There’s always a curve in the road.