Don’t be an idiot

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Show me a newspaper reporter who’s been in this business for a few years, and I’ll show you a cynical, skeptical individual who thinks they’ve seen it all.

It takes a bit of toughness to cover some stories, and not everyone is cut out for it.

I would like to think that I’m tough enough to cover any story that’s put in front of me. I’ve been around the proverbial block. I once covered a homicide in which the victim’s body was still lying in a driveway as I interviewed a law enforcement officer. It wasn’t something I enjoyed, but I didn’t shy away from it, either.

Last week, I covered a sentencing hearing for a drunk driver who killed two people last summer near Eureka Springs. I can honestly say that was one of the most gut-wrenching stories I’ve ever been involved with.

The driver, David Raupers, had a blood alcohol content that was two and a half times the legal limit. He plowed his pickup truck into a motorcycle ridden by Oklahoman David Magee and his wife, Marquita.

David Magee essentially bled to death after the impact nearly severed his left leg. Marquita Magee was tossed “like a rag doll,” in the words of one witness, over a guardrail and down a steep ravine. She died at the scene.

Last Tuesday and Wednesday, I sat in the courtroom in Eureka Springs and listened as the Magees’ friends and family members described the impact that their deaths have had. David Magee’s lifelong friend, Justin Brown, testified about what it was like to see the collision from his motorcycle just 20 feet behind the Magees. His wife, Sissy, talked about the loss of Marquita Magee, the “sister she never had.”

A room full of people, including several wearing “1 percent” motorcycle club attire, was virtually silent as the Browns testified. Justin Brown made reference to the fact that Raupers claims no memory of the accident.

“What he can’t remember, I can never forget,” Brown said.

When David Magee’s son, Brandon, testified on Wednesday he described how the accident changed his perspective of people. At one point, he said he wanted to be with his dad rather than alive on Earth.

Too often, we forget that the people we read about in the newspapers or see on TV news are real people. David Magee and his wife weren’t just a couple of tourists on a motorcycle. They were parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters and co-workers. Their loss left a hole that can never be filled. To the people that knew them, they were far more than a couple of names in a story in the newspaper.

Perhaps I felt a strong sense of empathy for the Browns and for Brandon Magee because I’ve seen what that kind of sudden loss can do to the folks who are left behind.

On Sept. 9, 2012, my youngest son, Ryan, was visiting with me when my cell phone rang mid-morning. When I answered, Ryan’s mom told me that her brother — my sons’ beloved Uncle Bill — had been killed earlier that morning when his motorcycle was hit by a drunk driver. She then asked me to hand the phone to Ryan so that she could break the news.

I will never forget the look on my 15-year-old son’s face, or the helplessness I felt as I drove him the three hours to his mother’s house so they could mourn together. My oldest son, Ronnie, had celebrated his 20th birthday just the day before; I know that his birthday now is always accompanied by a twinge, or more, of sadness.

Life goes on, but my sons will never forget that day, either.

I suppose what bothers me most about the tragedy and heartache caused by drunk driving is that it would be so simple, so easy, to avoid. Get a designated driver. Call a taxi. Sleep it off in the parking lot. Just don’t be an idiot. Don’t take someone’s life. Don’t ruin someone else’s. Don’t go to jail for 30 years. Don’t drink and drive.

• • •

Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com.