I’ve written many columns about my brother Ken, who killed his girlfriend and then committed suicide on Mother’s Day 1990. I’ve covered suicide and murder-suicide, as well as domestic violence. But what I haven’t written about is what happened the day before.
Before I get into it, I have to say that I was motivated to write about this incident because of the recent crash in Vacaville that killed two teens and injured three others. Driving home from Lake Berryessa, a driver lost control of a pickup and it rolled several times, ejecting him and his four teenage passengers. The CHP suspect alcohol was a contributing factor in the crash.
That Saturday morning 24 years ago, I decided to go to Lake Berryessa with my friends Chumly and “Jackson.” We loaded a boom box, cooler and stuff for a barbecue in my car and headed out. I had some trepidation, because I knew I’d be drinking at the lake and then driving home. Ninety-nine percent of the time I went to the lake, Chumly or someone else was driving. In fact, I’d only driven to the lake to party once before.
We drove to Berryessa, put a rap CD in the boom box and grilled some steaks and started drinking. After a great day of partying at the lake, we packed up and started home. Anyone who’s driven to or from the lake knows that there are some winding roads, with a rocky hill on one side and forested, sloped dropoffs on the other.
Coming around a corner, I lost control and we ran into the side of the rocky wall. I slowed us down and stopped the car on a turnout not far from the impact site. Hearts pounding, we scrambled out of the car and looked at the front passenger quarter panel, which was horribly dented.
We made it to my oldest brother’s house to sober up. While there, a friend, “Jose,” called to invite us to a party and told us our brother Ken was there. We declined. I told Jose that I’d crashed coming home from the lake. He relayed it to Ken and Ken asked if I was OK. I said yes. Twenty-four hours later, I would regret that.
My heart goes out to the families and friends of the teens killed and injured in the recent crash. In addition to the physical injuries from the wreck, the survivors are likely to experience survivor’s guilt. And I can relate to that because (and I’ve never even told my brothers this) for the longest time, I felt guilty in that if I would’ve been killed coming home from the lake, perhaps my brother wouldn’t have done what he did the next day. I regretted telling him I was OK. It took a long time to lay that shame down.
But what’s important right now is that the weather is gorgeous, senior cut days are likely and graduation is coming. There’s likely to be many trips to the lake and lots of house parties in the coming weeks.
While no teen should drink alcohol, the reality is that they do. By law, no drivers under 18 can transport other teens, but they do. So realistically, we’ve got to ensure there are designated drivers who in turn make sure that all passengers wear seatbelts.
Fortunately I didn’t hurt or kill my friends or anyone else on the road. But not everyone can look back at his or her irresponsible behavior. For some, that mistake will be their last. Peace.
Kelvin Wade is the author of “Morsels” Vols. I and II and lives in Fairfield. Email him at [email protected]