Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:00 PM on Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tragedy reminds us to be responsible as busy summer starts

On a Memorial Day weekend two years ago, Homer saw its worst fears realized when a Washington, D.C., visitor died in a horrible head-on car crash on the Sterling Highway between Homer and Anchor Point. Last week, prosecutors charged one of the drivers involved, Alfred Jones, with second-degree murder in the death of Kathleen Benz. The state alleged that Jones drove under the influence of methamphetamines, cocaine, oxycodone and marijuana.

The tragedy raises many questions. We have received numerous emails over the past two years from Benz's family and friends asking why charges had not been filed. Our hearts go out to them as they've endured their grief. Why has the family had to wait for justice? Why did it take so long for the Alaska State Troopers and Bureau of Highway Patrol to finish investigating the case? The Kenai District Attorney said he'll answer those questions at hearings when Jones appears in court. Jones, of course, is presumed innocent and will get his chance to be tried on the charges and judged by his peers.

Jones had 14 prior convictions, including 12 traffic offenses, two for driving under the influence of alcohol and others for driving while license revoked. Our laws allow for rehabilitation. Did our criminal justice system work in helping Jones to become and stay a sober, responsible driver?

If a person convicted of driving under the influence does his sentence, he can get his license back. For the chronic alcoholic, there is no check-off box that says "now clean, sober and responsible." The flaw in our system is that someone determined to drive, even with a revoked license, will do so. Those who have not yet gotten the monkey of alcoholism and drug addiction off their backs will still get behind the wheel. This raises questions about our society's attitudes toward substance abuse.

In last week's Homer News, the Homer Prevention Project inserted a survey on adult binge drinking. We urge you to fill it out. The Homer Prevention Project has been asking some hard questions about drinking in our town — you know, the cosmic hamlet with the bumper sticker that says we're "a quaint little drinking town with a fishing problem." The project addresses adult binge drinking and drinking by minors, identified by the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnership as two of our town's serious health issues.

Alcohol abuse and drug abuse fuel most crimes in our town. The hidden crimes are domestic violence, where men and women who get stinking drunk beat on each other and their children. The public crime is when people get drunk, get behind the wheel and kill someone.

The summer tourist season has its traditional start this Memorial Day weekend. Thousands of Alaskans and visitors get on the road this week to visit beautiful places like Homer. We wish everyone safe travels. Remember the rules of the road. Buckle up. Don't speed. Pass safely. If you're tired, don't drive. And don't drive drunk or stoned.

Firefighters last week also fought five wildfires that could have gotten out of hand. The fire danger is high, so check burn permits daily and build campfires safely. Have a safe, fun weekend, and remember the real reason for Memorial Day: to honor our war dead.