Some years ago I discovered a tombstone out at the Whitcher cemetery in East Garrison on the former Fort Ord Army base. This grave marker didn’t have the name “Whitcher” like the four other tombstones did, and the year of death wasn’t even in the same century. The simple marble marker reads: Mary H. Pearson 1899-1935. I began investigating the Whitchers and Mary. It didn’t take very long to learn that Mary had a second grave marker in another, much larger cemetery in Monterey. After much digging (pardon the pun), I acquired Mary’s death certificate with yet a third place of burial: Mission Memorial. Mary’s story might be the makings of a novella or even a book one day, because there’s much more to her story than what I’ve written here, but she comes to mind because of her cause of death: a chronically drunk driver crashed into her automobile. This happened 74 years ago. Her murderer received three months probation.
On Sunday evening (9th August, 2009), another drunk driver caused the death of a much younger person, a four year old boy named Sebastian. He was strapped into his car seat, probably sleeping (I pray) as his mother and younger sister waited on River Road, less than a mile from my home, maybe for the traffic light to turn green.
Late Monday afternoon I realized that Sebastian was my son’s playmate. They’ve spent the summer together in the same wonderful daycare. I last saw Sebastian on Friday when I picked up my kids.
All day Monday, the 10th, my son knew something was wrong because his caregiver cried and seemed sad. At the end of the day, he asked his father what was wrong. When I came home my son’s eyes, swollen and red, gushed tears as he ran to me and wrapped his skinny little boy arms around me. His wiry body trembled as he sobbed over the friend he would never play with again, and Sebastian’s two-year old sister, Ava. He worried about Ava, who was also in the car. “Will she be okay?” he asked. “Is she hurting?” he wanted to know. Then, “Is Sebastian really gone forever?”
I comforted him as best I could, yet, as the evening progressed, my son didn’t feel better. In fact he awakened four times during the night afraid. He cried and cried, unable to understand why this had happened. He said, “That bad man.” I said, “Yes, it’s a terrible thing to take someone’s life. That’s why you should never get into a car with anyone who has been drinking or doing drugs. This man will go to prison for the rest of his life.”
But then I thought about Mary and how the man who killed her got off with just a few months. Today, three-quarters of a century after Mary’s premature death, how much worse will the punishment be? Still, what ever it is, four-year old Sebastian will NEVER play with anyone again. Can there be ANY suitable retribution for that and the grief that will forever haunt the family?