I was talking to a guy I used to work with about the recent Michael Carr arraignment and the latest complications Niko DiNovo had while fighting for his life at the Westchester Hospital Burn unit and we agreed it could have been either one of us – in either boys’ shoes.
Carr is the 18-year-old who is charged with seven felonies including driving under the influence of marijuana and alcohol, speeding and nearly killing his 16-year-old friend DiNovo, who is still at Westchester six months after the accident. He is looking at a ton of time behind bars and the charges and the potential sentence will just increase if DiNovo doesn’t make it.
It’s all relative, though. As my brother says, he already has a life sentence, waking up every day knowing what he did to his buddy.
Last week, word ripped around town that DiNovo’s heart stopped for some 18 minutes before doctors were able to get it beating again. Every couple weeks word comes out of Westchester about another bump in what is a rocky road. It’s really a miracle he is still alive with third degree burns over 95 percent of his body.
To restart his heart must have taken quite an effort. Not for any medical complexities, but because it must be huge.
When I say it could have been me. In either spot, staring at a judge or the maker, I mean it quite literally.
In 1984, I was 18. I was driving my friend’s speedy Volkswagen GTI five-speed with three or four guys in the little hatchback on Route 9 in Lake George and for some reason decided I was going to try to pass a few cars on the double yellow line.
Downshifted, I did, and took off like a rocket into the left lane. I didn’t get far before the flashing lights of a trooper appeared in the rearview mirror and pulled me over. I was charged with a DWI – my first – and other charges. I don’t know if I was tested for marijuana or not, but it’s a pretty safe bet it was in my system.
Yes, mom and dad, I did smoke pot in my youth. Shocking, I know.
Looking back now, while into the second half of my life, I realize what could have happened on that night if the timing was a little different. If there was another vehicle coming in the other direction, or if I had really gotten the GTI up to speed and, in an altered state of mind I was in, simply lost control of the car … with three or four buddies in it and other cars on the road.
I guess you don’t realize how fragile life is when you’re 18.
I remember having the same types of thoughts a few years ago when I covered the trial of a man (not much older than a kid, really) who was charged with killing his buddy in a motorcycle accident after the two left a party.
I don’t remember the kid’s name, but at issue was whether or not gravel on the road caused him to lose control of his bike or if it was the couple beers he drank at the party. There was no question about the condition of his buddy. He was pronounced dead at the scene after getting thrown from the bike and into a tree.
I wrote a column after the trial that ended – with the kid getting convicted of DWAI but not guilty of vehicular homicide and him going home with his pregnant wife – praising the judge and the jury for doing the right thing and not punishing the kid more than he deserves.
Again, he already has a life sentence.
I write this as a jury begins deliberating the fate of Alexander West, the 25-year-old on trial for killing an 8-year-old girl while driving a boat under the influence of drugs and alcohol on Lake George.
His case is a little different in that he killed an innocent kid whereas the DiNovo and the kid on the back of the motorcycle were there voluntarily but it does reinforce my point – a family with kids could have been coming the other way on Route 9 when I was a dumb kid driving drunk.
By the grace of God or dumb luck — or a combination of the two, — I am now old enough to know how fragile life really is and how fast if can all go wrong.
Jim Franco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (518)-878-1000.