He’d just kill for a beer
Jason Michael Dalby began his day at a class for drunken drivers - it was the second he'd been ordered to take. He left the class and went to a friend's house, where he began drinking. When the beer was gone, Dalby offered to run out for more.
And that's when Dalby crossed paths with the Sands family.
He was driving through a neighborhood in Hesperia, in San Bernardino County, California. The police report says his truck was going 94 mph when he ran a stop sign and t-boned the driver's side of Sands' Ford Escort. Wendy died on impact. Kimberly was thrown out of the car and died minutes later.
Wendy was 26. Kimberly was 6.
Dalby pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 15 years to life, with the sentences running concurrently. According to news reports posted on a Web site in memory of Wendy and Kimberly, he had two prior convictions for driving under the influence. The fact that he'd been to a DUI class that morning made it hard for him to deny that he knew the possible consequences of his actions, prosecutors said.
Dalby contends he never was intoxicated during any of his three DUI-related arrests. Intoxication is when you lose motor skills, he said in a written statement before sentencing. He says he'd had only two beers in three hours even though witnesses put the total at 11 in five hours, and prosecutors said his blood-alcohol content was 0.14 percent, well over California's legal limit of 0.08.
He'll be eligible for parole in two more years.
I learned Wendy and Kimberly's story today, more than 10 years after the June 10, 2000 accident that killed them. The remnants of their blue Escort are parked near the post exchange at Fort Irwin, the twisted metal encased in a glass trailer that includes a copy of the police report and portraits of Wendy and Kimberly on its side.
We're used to seeing smashed vehicles on display here. There's always one just after you pass the gates, headed off post. The most current is from a January accident that killed a baby and paralyzed a parent after a drunken driver rear-ended an SUV. Seeing a wrecked car as you drive past, though, doesn't register as much as seeing one that you can look over slowly and up close.
"Why is this side more messed up?" Boots asked, pointing to what used to be the driver's door.
"Because that's where the other driver hit the car," I said.
"Was he going fast? Like, BOOM!"
"Yes, babes. Way too fast. Faster than people are allowed to drive on the freeway. And he'd had too much beer, too."
"And you should never drive if you've had beer," Boots said solemnly as his fingers traced Kimberly's portrait. "Mommy, what happened to this pretty little girl? Did she get hurt? Did she have to go to the hospital and get shots?"
"She went to heaven, babes. You see, you can hurt other people very badly if you drink beer and drive."
"Awwwwwwwwwww," he moaned softly. "That poor mommy. Her little girl's in heaven."
Thank heaven he didn't ask if the mommy had gotten hurt, too. With his father far away at the moment, I didn't want to put visions in his head of people who drink too much beer and kill mommies.
"I'm never gonna drink beer and drive," Boots vowed.
We walked away after that, because I couldn't take it. Once upon a time I'd been able to muster a certain professional detachment about these things, but not anymore. Today, as I tore my gaze away from Wendy's mangled door I found myself imagining her final moments. With a truck barreling toward her at more than 90 mph, I doubt she had much time to think. Had she even known what was coming? Was Kimber - that's what her family called her - aware of what was happening as she lay beside the wreckage, struggling to breathe?
We'd stayed long enough, though, for Wendy and Kimberly's message and story to register in Boots' 5-year-old brain.
Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.