June 2, 2009

"Not completely his fault"

“I think if [accused hit-and-run driver Robert Park]’s guilty he should go to prison, but I don’t think he should be put to death,” said Zach Pokorny, one of Waye’s friends who was heading toward his house. “He was drunk, so it’s not completely his fault.”

I can't let that one pass.
The standard that Pokomy mentioned in today's Bristol Press story about the arrest of the man accused of the deadly March 5 hit-and-run that left 14-year-old Henry Waye, Jr dead is a common one.
"He was drunk so it's not completely his fault."
Think about that.
Assuming that the police are correct about Park, this man got smashed, then climbed behind the wheel of his big white pickup truck and drove it into a kid, leaving him to die as he weaved on up George Street to his home.
Whose fault could that possibly be other than his?
It's not like somebody tied Park down and poured cheap vodka down this throat. He apparently did that all by himself, for years, if the people the Press spoke with in March were right about him.
Perhaps alcoholism is a disease. I'll grant that it can take control of people in ugly, awful ways.
But so what?
If Robert Park had been driving home from Aetna that night, tired from a long day of eyeballing actuarial tables and accidentally struck a kid walking in the street, does anyone think that would be worse? After all, in that case it would be completely his fault, if you buy the argument that begin drunk lessens the guilt.
We all recognize that accidents happen, even deadly ones that leave children dead or crippled. Sometimes, it's just bad luck, one of those terrible confluences of events that everyone wishes they could go back and undo.
But it's not an accident, really, when someone drags himself behind the wheel while sloshed out of his gourd and then hits someone. While not deliberate -- and, really, what kind of animal would deliberately run down a kid? -- it's entirely predictable.
Park's guilt isn't lessened because he was drunk, assuming the police have it right. His guilt is actually made all the greater.
Frankly, I get tired of people making excuses for the crazy, stupid, evil things that some people do behind the wheel.
When they drive drunk or race along at 100 miles an hour or more or weave like a maniac through traffic, they're setting up a tragedy. They may not mean to cause a death, but they make it possible, perhaps even likely, that someone will wind up a corpse.
When it happens, it's completely the fault of the drunk or maniac who caused it.
Let's not make excuses for Park or anyone else who should have known better. They don't deserve a break.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com


Anonymous said...

Well stated, Mr. Collins.

Is there any word on where Park was prior to getting behind the wheel? Was he being served at a local drinking establishment? And if so, who was serving this guy? And finally, did anyone try to stop him from driving? There may be more people involved in this tragedy who also need to be held accountable.

Please investigate.

Steve Collins said...

At this point, the story is out of my hands, except that I'd like to get a PDF of the stuff the police have on paper so that all of you can read all of it.
Suggestions about further coverage of the case should be sent to Diane Church - dchurch@bristolpress.com. She's our police reporter. I don't want to step on her toes.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree. Disease or not he chose to drink. He chose to drink knowing it would impair his performance. Even if he has driven while inebriated before and did not kill anyone he was playing Russian Roulette. The only difference between driving sober and deliberately harming someone and driving while drunk is the person who is drunk doesn't choose his target. Everyone and everything is a target when one drives while drunk. The drunk doesn't choose his target instead he endangers everyone. Three crimes were committed here. He chose to drive while impaired. He hit a child. He ran away. I don't believe in the death penalty for any reason for anyone but driving while drunk only magnifies his guilt. If he would have not made that choice we would not be having this conversation. One simple choice.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that Henry Wade's death was entirely Mr. Park's fault, I think its unfair to use this 14 year-old's quote in your blog article. My guess is that this young man didn't have the vocabulary to point out to you that the reason that Mr. Park shouldn't receive the death penalty is because Mr. Park did not have the intent to kill Henry when he fatally struck him with his vehicle; he was intoxicated and had no personal gripe with Henry; Henry was Mr. Park's victim, but not his chosen target. Intent is one notable difference between the crimes of negligent homicide/manslaughter and murder. It is easy for a child (and indeed even adults) to misuse such terms. He's not a lawyer.
It is irresponsible for you, Steve, to print this young man's quote on your blog. His schoolmates have been intently focused on the drama surrounding Henry's death, and some are very zealous. You know kids. I hope he isn't bothered by kids at school because of this article. I can see him coming under fire for his quote. If I were his parents, I would be very upset that you would publish this with his full name in it. In good conscience, this article should be immediately removed from your blog site. Is it news? Enh. Will Zack Pokorny end up as a scapegoat? Maybe so. Please remove this article.

Steve Collins said...

What Zach said merely echoes what many adults say. He actually strikes me as a fairly articulate young man.
If you want to see, though, why this whole issue is so bothersome, search "Sean Landry" on this blog. Read the comments there.
My point may seem obvious to some, but it's clearly not to everyone. And I think it's important to pound home.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your point, Steve, but I think that it would have been just as well made if your article did not include Mr. Pokorny's name.

Further, if Mr. Pokorny echoed what you had already heard from "many adults", why didn't you quote one of those adults?

Sometimes you should pull your punches. As articulate as he may be, Zack Pokorny is just a child.

Did you obtain his parents permission before you quoted him in your article, did you consult with his school principal or guidance counselor to ask their opinion on whether he might suffer negative consequences as a result of your publishing this article online? I assume that you did neither.

You are a parent. You know how tough kids can be. In particular part, you reported about all of the candlelight vigils and the petitions put out by Henry Wade's classmates, and so you know that Mr. Pokorny's peers are absolutely absorbed in this issue. I'm concerned that Mr. Pokorny will suffer at their hands.

So, maybe you should follow up with Mr. Pokorny's parents today or tomorrow to make sure that he's okay.

I am a parent, and I just can't help but be concerned with your behavior. I didn't realize that you had the freedom to publish a potentially inflammatory quote made by a child, and cite that child's full name in an article. If so, that's good to know, because I will make sure to teach my daughter to say "no comment" if she sees you prowling the sidewalk outside of her school.

Steve Collins said...

We can quote anybody. So be careful what you say.
But let me add that I've been running a teen-written paper for 15 years so I know teenagers pretty well. And I know that taking them seriously is far better than treating them like little kids. Their words, like anybody's words, have meaning and value. Part of the price of having them taken seriously is, of course, that we take them seriously.
I appreciate what Zach said and would be surprised if he got much grief about it. In fact, it might open the door for an interesting conversation among his peers.
Worry less, mom, and trust more. These young folks know more about taking care of themselves than you think (and I say that as the father of an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old).

Anonymous said...

I agree with your premise that being drunk doesn't lessen someone's guilt, and in this case it's what MAKES him guilty. But clearly this isn't a death penalty case. DP is reserved for heinous murderers, not negligent imbeciles who manage to take a life with their stupidity.

I know everyone likes to beat the old "but they ARE murderers" drum, but let's be real. If you want to claim that word then fine but there needs to be a word that distinguishes animals like the Petit killers from some run-of-the-mill dirtbag like this guy. And the law clearly makes that distinction, as it should.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mom 1:19 & 3:33,

Your statements represent everything that's wrong with this country. Where do you get off telling Steve not to quote someone who willingly identified himself?

If Zack Pokorny gets crap from his school chums, then so be it. A lot worse could happen to him.

Life is cruel lady, and we don't need holier-than-thou women like you trying to control or interpret the First Amendment.

Go bake a cake and do a load of laundry.

Evolution said...

When kids play in the street at night ...... well ...... it just might be time to start thinning the herd .

Anonymous said...

I know Zack ment good but hopefully his parents saw what he said and had a good long talk with him.

Anonymous said...

4:39's comments are insulting. I am a mom, and I take great offense that my comments might be considered less valuable than some one else's because I bore children. If anything, a mother's viewpoint is more valuable than those of people who have so much less at stake. But every person's view is to be respected.

That being said, I agree that journalists should avoid using quotes from minor children. They do not have the experience or maturity to know when to keep silent, especially when under pressure from an adult to speak. They also may not be ready to deal with being misquoted, which is often a problem. As a reader, I would much rather hear what a responsible and knowledgeable adult has to say about such a serious topic. I get the feeling, wrong or right, that the child is being used for sensationalism. That turns my stomach.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Collins,
I couldn't agree with you more. So many people have been killed over the years ( people that I have known personally ) because of a drunk driver.I also am friends with a recovering alcoholic so I understand that it is a disease but the driver CHOSE to get behind the wheel. I hope that Henry's friends understand that it WAS completely Park's fault. He could have chosen to have someone else drive for him. He didn't. I, for one, am very tired of seeing drunk drivers get light sentences, while young people lives are cut short and their families have to always live with the horror of what happened.
Thanks for your blog!!

Anonymous said...

Alcoholism is a disease, sure, and maybe it is really hard to stop drinking. Maybe it was too hard for Robert Park and maybe it is too hard for many people to quit.
But even if you accept that, you don't have to accept that whatever they do when they've been drinking is okay. If they feel they must drink, they can stay inside, at home and in bed and reduce the chance of hurting others.

Anonymous said...

Zach's quote first appeared in a news story in the printed version of the paper. Steve is reprinting it here as a way to talk about an important issue. I know kids, too, and believe me, this is mild. A 14-year-old has a lot more going on than many adults think and often quite insightful things to say. I wish the Press quoted more teenagers, not less.

Anonymous said...

You mothers who posted your anti-Press, anti-First Ammendment crap here are giving mothers a bad name. I bet you are all over the Press when your little cutie wins a Little Miss pageant or your junior slugger pops one over the fence at the Little League game. Ooooh! My baby was in the paper! Where's the clipping service? Let's get copies for the relatives! And boy, I bet the paper hears about it when they DON'T include your precious child, school or club in the story or photo, or fails to show up for the Eagle Scout project, the PTO bake sale, the canned goods collection, the soccer match, the all-important fundraiser.
But God forbid the newspaper should involve a young person in a genuinely serious conversation about an issue that is important to that young person, to other young people and to the entire community.
We wouldn't want our children exposed to THAT, would we? Nope, it would be too real, too much like life itself, and, dare I say, too educational. It would be valuable, and pretty much over your heads.
Oh, and by the way, your little darlings are probably all over MySpace, YouTube and Facebook, blabbing all about themselves and their lives to the entire world, posting photos, videos and words that do far more extensive and permanent damage to themselves than any news story would.

Anonymous said...

What goes around, comes around...in time Mr. Park will get his. Just be thankful they caught the person and he is no longer on the street to cause more harm.

Anonymous said...

To 4:39 and 10:16:

Yes, I am a mother. I am also an American exercising my right to free speech by posting on this blog. You may not like what I have to say, but Steve is a journalist with enough integrity to post anonymous messages by people who don't agree with him (like me, from time to time). If you asked him, I'm sure he would appreciate the discourse, even as he bristles about my implication that he was less than thoughtful and perhaps acted improperly.

As for you, you can take your ad hominem attacks and put them where the sun doesn't shine. You don't know me, and I don't care to know about your clear "mommy issues". I don't deserve your irrelevant and misogynistic rant. I will have you know that I am very well educated and very patriotic, and that my knowledge of our federal and State Constitutions and statutory laws likely greatly exceeds yours. I am raising my daughter to have her own mind, to be knowledgeable and thoughtful, and most of all, respectful of other people's opinions (and apparently, to say "no comment" to erstwhile reporters).

As for opinions, you have yours and I have mine. Contrary to the conclusion in your obnoxious posting, my comments, your responses, and Steve's willingness to post them and defend himself here are what's RIGHT about this country. I'm sure you would censor me if you could. So, who is the more democratic-minded in this situation?

And for the record, I don't bake cakes because they are bad for my health, and my husband does the laundry (although I help fold). I am a feminist, I work hard, and I have just as much right as you to contribute to this forum. If you don't think so, you should take another look at the First Amendment, and remember that OUR Constitutional rights, by virtue of Amendments numbered 13, 14, 15, and 19, have been extended to more than just landed, white males.

Can I get an Amen?

Anonymous said...

Park may not deserve a break, but he doesn't deserve the death penalty either. Not that it is even on the table, since he hasn't been(and couldn't be) accused of capital murder. This is a matter of prosecutorial discretion, and is based on the fact that he was so damn drunk, he couldn't possibly have the intent required to commit such a crime.

Anonymous said...


you're right in that we are happy when our children get into the paper for the good or cute things that they do. why shouldn't we love that?

however, the thing you're ignoring is that children don't get into the paper when they do bad things, and that our courts often close court rooms when youthful offenders are brought before them. there is some aspect of anonymity that protects them from SOME of the consequences of their actions, and this is often required by law. we can see the benefit of these laws. I can see what the moms are saying here, and as one of them said, steve could have chosen to pull his punches but he didn't. sounds like her gripe is with steve's exercise of his discretion. i don't have a problem with that, and if she does, she can choose to exercise her right to ignore steve by canceling her bristol press subscription, she can call steve's boss and complain about him, or she can just choose not to check out the comments that you and other wahoos like you post on this blog. and whatever she, steve and steve's boss decide, in that hypothetical, does not reflect on anyone's constitutional values. instead, their respective consciences and business sensibilities may come into play.

given that, can a reporter in this situation choose not to quote a child? absolutely. there's no first amendment violation if steve makes that choice on his own. the first amendment only comes into play when the government gets involved and starts telling steve what to do.

finally, I am a little surprised that steve doesn't think that your post is too mean-spirited to be put on the page. i guess that is just one more example of steve exercising his discretion.

Anonymous said...

@ June 3, 2009 11:12 AM

Great, another educated (beyond your intelligence) breeder with a self-righteous attitude! Aren't we fortunate!? Regrettably, I don't have the luxury of replying to your comments point-by-point because I'm a working-class stiff trying to make a buck, but I will say your pompous tone is nauseating.

Questions: what color skirt do you make your husband wear when he's in your line of sight? And please tell me, does your daughter share your same passion for being a domineering know-it-all feminist? For her sake, I hope not. It makes me cringe to think you are raising a duplicate of yourself. Heaven help us all!

While not typically one to give advice, I'm going to make an exception today and suggest you should eat a piece of cake. Unless, of course, you are morbidly obese (which wouldn't be a surprise). If so, please do us all a favor and eat the whole cake, down it with 16 ounces of whole milk followed by a quart of ice cream. With any luck, you will keel over from a heart attack and we'll be free from your morally superior ranting.

Take that and stick it where your fingers and extra fluffy, triple-ply bath tissues touch.

Have a nice day! :o)

Anonymous said...


I see you are determined to further digress from the real issue that I and another poster raised. Indeed, you can't even stick to the First Amendment issue that you brought up. Guess that makes you a loser who can't stand up to my superior intelligence and winning analytical skills.

Although, I will credit you with your colorful imagery. Hopefully you didn't get yourself too overexcited at the office, daydreaming as you were about mommies, cake, and men wearing skimpy outfits.

Finally, I would like to say that the only mother who has been given a bad name is YOUR mother. Your behavior is probably a great disservice to the way you were raised, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Please feel free to post whatever nastiness you feel necessary in reply to this comment. I doubt that I'll look back to see your posting, but I imagine that it may give you some small satisfaction to have it out there for everyone to see that you had the last word.

Here's wishing that you can find some peace and happiness in your narrow, creepy, little world.

Anonymous said...

@ June 3, 2009 2:09 PM

"Guess that makes you a loser who can't stand up to my superior intelligence and winning analytical skills."

Oh, please! Don't you realize humility is virtuous, sweetheart. Get yourself some then get back to me.

"Please feel free to post whatever nastiness you feel necessary in reply to this comment."

Wow! You are a genuine control Freak! I'm going to guess you're also an egocentric attorney with an inferiority complex who was coddled as an infant and continually over protected as a young adult.

"Finally, I would like to say that the only mother who has been given a bad name is YOUR mother. Your behavior is probably a great disservice to the way you were raised, and you should be ashamed of yourself."

Your mother should be ashamed of herself. She should have done a better job raising you and had you sterilized before you could procreate. And I'm sure your daughter will soon be ashamed of her mother's self-serving perspective on life, if she isn't already. You betcha! ;o)

Anonymous said...

11:12, 11:29, and 2:09:


The Mommie Hater obviously has some mental health problems.

Would love to share more of my views, but I have dinner to make, laundry to do, and kids' homework to help with before I go back to work at my practice tomorrow.

Ben said...

C'mon Bristol residents, get a life and deal with your issues. People are writing crap novels here. Just ignore the ignorant posts already, if you haven't figured it out all of these "anonymous" posters like getting into stupid debates.

I'm sure diverting misderected anger from their boss or spouses at total strangers is some sort of coping mechanism or thereapy for them.

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