by Kate Collins
Did you happen to see the show “48 Hours” Saturday night? It was about the sixteen year old boy who drove drunk with a truck full of teenagers and killed four people -- and then was given probation. If you didn’t see the show, the recap is that his wealthy parents gave him his own house where he lived by himself, got himself off to school, and did a lot of drinking/partying and drugs with friends.
What came out was that his parents had pretty much bought his way out of trouble starting from when they first let him drive a truck at age 12. He was never told no. His mom couldn’t remember the last time she’d disciplined him. His friends said she knew about the drinking and parties but never tried to prevent them.
After the horrific accident, when the boy was accused on five different charges, his parents settled out of court, and it went to the judge for sentencing. She gave him probation. The people in town were naturally horrified. The sentiment was that the boy had never been held responsible for anything and now he was getting off again. That judge, by the way, retired the following year. She couldn’t take the criticism thrown at her.
I don’t know how you view the case, but being a writer, I’m accustomed to jumping into other people’s heads to see things from their point of view. As a former teacher, I also have a background in psychology, and I remember from my class on gang psychology, young people who are “abandoned” by their parents, whether from neglect, abuse, or being orphaned, often are so lonely – soul-deep lonely – that they turn to drugs, alcohol, and/or a new family, i.e. gangs, to fill that void in their lives.
So although part of me saw this young man as a spoiled brat used to getting his own way and buying his way out of trouble, the other part of me saw an abandoned child. His parents bought a place for him to live out of their lives. What kind of message does that boy receive? It’s not “Here, honey, this is to pamper you.” It’s “Go away and leave us in peace. We don’t care what you do.”
Who do you punish in a case like this? The boy, who’s basically been punished all his life for being the son of people who didn’t seem to care about him? Or the parents, who didn’t have a clue what they were doing to him?
The obvious victims, of course, are the families who lost loved ones in the crash. But in my writer’s eyes, this spoiled young man is a victim, too.
What would your decision have been if you’d been the judge?