To whom it may concern:
You don’t know who I am, but I know who you are. Two years ago, four of the most influential people in my life were killed on your roadways. The person (or should I say one of the people) responsible for killing them had his day in court recently. You ruled that he should have yet another DUI added to his record and pay a $350 fine. For the folks keeping tally at home, that brings his DUI count to two, and that’s not counting the times he’s been arrested for illegal drug and alcohol possession and consumption.
On the night Michael, Monica, Joshua and Caleb Cruce died, they were on their way to a much-deserved vacation. They had their car packed full of coolers, suitcases, and everything needed for a fun family getaway. Monica was driving. You don’t know her, and you’ll never get the chance because, as I mentioned, she was killed in your county, but she was one of the best drivers I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched her back a bus with a trailer attached out of the tiniest parking lots you can imagine. She had her CDL and I traveled hundreds of thousands of miles with her at the wheel throughout my youth. I never saw her flinch once. She was as skilled behind the wheel as a professional. So I know that if she had any chance to avoid a collision, she would have been clear-headed enough to take it. Unfortunately, the man you just sentenced wasn’t clear-headed that night. He had a large amount of Xanax in his system. Drug and alcohol abuse were habits of his since well before he hit 21, as your public records show. You can surmise by the crime scene photos (and yes, it was a crime scene, whether you want to acknowledge that or not) how fast he must have been traveling to render what was once their vehicle into a pile of metal shreds.
Don’t misunderstand me; the defendant is not the only guilty party here. A collision may never have occurred at all had the Cruce family not crashed into a wreck your county had failed to clear on the roadway in front of them. News coverage following the accident revealed that multiple people had called to report that two cars, apparently involved in a fender bender, were sitting stationary on the interstate with no lights or reflectors to indicate their presence.
As I mentioned, you don’t know me but I know you. I know that the director of your 911 dispatch system resigned in exasperation over the county’s refusal to implement changes that would speed up response times. I know that all the people who called to report the initial accident—some of whom nearly collided with the cars themselves—were told the accident had been cleared, despite the fact that they were looking at it with their own eyes. I know that about 20 people die on the road in your county every year. I know that even after the Cruce family lay dead in their vehicle, it was the city police who initially responded due to the delay in county response time. I know that the people who failed to respond to both accidents in a timely manner got to write the accident report and therefore establish what version of the narrative would become a matter of public record. I know that their explanation as to why the accident occurred was to cite “unknown reasons.” I know that you have yet to introduce any standard of accountability for the police and road departments who failed to respond to the initial accident. I know that when someone calls 911 in your county, they are routed through a call center like they’re troubleshooting their wifi connection rather than begging for assistance in perhaps the most urgent moment of their lives.
In one of your courtrooms you chose to protect a man who has displayed a flagrant disregard for the law and for the safety of others time and time again. You denied the victim’s families a chance to speak about their loss. You held them back like prisoners from leaving the courtroom for fear that they would “exchange words” with the defendant. As if the people who have lost an entire family are somehow overreacting to your colossal failure to protect the people who live and travel in your county.
I want you to know what you’ve done. I want you to know how utterly incompetent and callous you have proved to be. I want you to know that Michael, Monica, Joshua, and Caleb’s lives are worth more than $87.50 each and that handing down a mere fine for their deaths was like spitting in the faces of everyone who has walked the road of losing them. I want you to know that there will be others. the defendant is a serial offender. He does not respect the laws of the road, the laws of your state, or the laws of this country. I want you to know that the blood of four innocent people is on your hands, because you failed to punish those responsible for their deaths. I want you to ask yourself how many more bodies you can drive to the coroner’s lab before you confront the problem?
But more than all of that, I want you to know who these people were. I want you to know that Michael encouraged me and challenged me as a person and as a Christian. I want you to know that Monica came and sat with my mother during her absolute darkest hour and served our family with utter selflessness. I want you to know that there is not a letter long enough to describe the impact they had on my life. I want you to know that there are hundreds of people with that same story. I want you to know that Caleb and Joshua were little when they came to our church, and that watching them grow into young men of God was a privilege. I want you to know that Joshua’s senior class dedicated their graduation ceremony to him and carried a picture of him during the processional because he couldn’t be there. I want you to know that during what should have been one of the happiest moments of their young lives, every student was in tears because Joshua wasn’t there. I want you to feel the weight of every tear, every sleepless night, every missed wedding, birthday, anniversary, and milestone.
Michael and Monica were foster parents, so they knew a lot about what it means to be a voice for the voiceless. I can’t bring them back, but I can fight for them. I can make sure everyone in your county beats down your door until you change your emergency response system. I can make sure people know how soft you are on drunk drivers. The Cruces were some of the most devout Christians I’ve ever known and they would want me to remind you that justice will be done when we stand before God in eternity. We don’t always get it this side of heaven. I know that, I trust that, and I put my hope in that. But that doesn’t mean I have to be silent.
In loving memory of Michael, Monica, Joshua, and Caleb Cruce,