Today I had to tell a woman, a mother, that her only son was dead. And it was his own damn fault. And then I had to tell a father that his daughter was gone forever.
From the beginning things were really bad. And I knew it was only going to get worse. What made the accident so bad was that it could have been avoided. If only Clint hadn't been completely wasted, if only the truck driver had been paying attention to the road...
Sheriff Shockley had been in a town two states away visiting family, leaving me to man the station by myself.
It had all started at Stephanie's Bar and Grill, a local joint. Clint Black had been celebrating his twenty-first birthday with his girlfriend Stacy and three of Clint's best friends. Clint had only been drinking for a couple of years. He had never drank anything stronger than a few beers at parties. But tonight he was celebrating his birthday and he had decided to try his luck with whiskey. If his damn fool friends had had any sense they would have forced him to stop at one or two shots. But they didn't and he went overboard and had maybe six or seven shots. It was enough to get him drunk as a skunk. The friends had two or three beers each and his girlfriend had a couple of martinis. They weren't all that severely impaired and anyone has enough common sense to know that you don't let someone as obviously inebriated as Clint was, drive.
At about 10:30 that night the five of them got into Clint's SUV, bought for him recently by his mother. Clint's father had died of prostate cancer a few years before. As fate would have it Clint decided to drive himself.
Somehow Clint managed to make it all the way to Eliot Road a couple of miles away just outside of town. Traffic wasn't heavy that night (it was a Sunday) but the conditions were less than ideal. It had been raining, and then snowing that day. The rain had frozen and made the roads icy. The speed limit on Eliot Road was 55 mph. Clint had the SUV floored all the way to 60.
He didn't see the patch of ice that would help end his life. The SUV slid on the ice and went out of control. If the vehicle had done a 180 things might have been different. But they weren't. The SUV wound up in the oncoming lane heading towards a speeding eighteen-wheeler. The truck driver, who had been drowsy the entire night and failed to pull off the road, fell asleep long enough for the SUV and the tractor-trailer to hit head-on. Clint and Stacy were killed instantly. The three men in the second row (who weren't wearing their seat belts) sustained critical injuries but survived the crash. The truck driver only had minor injuries. But at least three lives had been ruined that night.
It took about three and a half hours to secure the scene and do what could be done. By the time I made it back to the station I was half numb, half exhausted. I had to prepare for the media, for the victims' families, and the paperwork. First I wanted to put in the necessary calls. Better that Clint's and Stacy's families should find out from me and not from others.
I had had to do a lot of difficult things as a sheriff's deputy. I had had to escort a horrifically injured victim of spousal abuse to the hospital. It had taken all my restraint and all my training to not repay the husband for the terrible things he had done to the woman he was supposed to love. I had to shoot a man once. He had drawn on me first and I was acting in self-defense but I still hated it. His wound had been mortal although I had tried to avoid killing him by shooting him in the stomach but he had still died. And I blamed myself, even though I really shouldn't have. But I had never had to make the calls I was about to have to make.
Before I even picked up the phone my hands started shaking. I knew I couldn't make the call right then no matter how hard I tried. I knew from experience that the Sheriff had a bottle of scotch in his desk drawer, kept for "emergencies." This was an emergency. It took me about half an hour to prepare for what I needed to do. Slowly I picked up the phone and dialed the number. The phone on the other end rang. One, two, three times. Then it was picked up.
"Hello," Alice Black answered.
All the preparation, all my forced composure, failed me. I couldn't answer.
"Hello?" Ms. Black said again.
I slammed the phone down in the cradle, my cowardice having claimed me. I knew I couldn't do it, not yet. All the alcohol in my system meant nothing. And then, for one of the few times in my life, I cried. Tears streamed down my face, despair seized my heart, and my fists clenched.
About fifteen minutes later I was ready to make another try. This time I succeeded where I had failed before. It was every bit as bad as I had feared it would be. But somehow I did it. Clint's mother broke down sobbing when I told her what had happened. Then she hung up on me. I saw no point in calling her back. Not yet, anyway. She needed time. If she needed me she would call me back.
The call to Stacy's parents wasn't much easier. After the call to Ms. Black I had started to feel numb. The alcohol was working. It was her father who answered. After I told him what had happened I heard a crash and then cursing, then yelling, then screaming. I wanted to try and help somehow, but I knew I couldn't. This time I hung up myself.
It was then that I had the thought: "I know I'm not very good at this. I don't want to be better."