With youth comes naïveté. As children, we feel invincible, as if we can do anything without worrying about danger or consequences. As we grow up and slowly move toward adulthood, this sense of invincibility may lessen, but often does not completely disappear until we are faced with a wake-up call.
A mere second can turn our whole world upside down. One action, one choice or one wrong move can change everything. This is a lesson that is important to learn before it is too late. Tragedy is a stern, but effective, teacher.
On March 12, former Rider student Laura Gallagher was sentenced to three years in prison. Gallagher, then a sophomore and a softball player, was driving home when she hit 54-year-old pedestrian Carl Wilkins on Oct. 28, 2011. Gallagher then panicked and fled the scene. Another driver hit Wilkins again and also fled. After a brief shocking moment, both drivers were left with death on their hands.
On Nov. 3, Gallagher confessed to fleeing from the scene of the accident and faced her punishment. She was originally charged with two second-degree felonies, death by auto and leaving the scene, carrying a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. But Gallagher got off relatively easy when the death by auto charge was dropped and the judge decided to let her off with less than the bargained sentence of five years.
There is more to this lesson than meets the eye. Gallagher was on her way home from a party, where she had a drink, according to her attorney. Because she fled the scene of the accident, there is no way to know if she was intoxicated.
Gallagher has to live with knowing that she may have been able to save Wilkins’ life by stopping her car and preventing a repeat accident moments later.
This story proves that a single moment in time can destroy lives. Blame cannot be placed on youth, inexperience or alcohol — this could happen to anyone.
In an effort to prevent these negative life-changing moments, Rider students, as well as students and people of all ages around the world, should learn from Gallagher’s experience. One minute she was a happy, healthy college student — just like all of us here at Rider. Seconds later, she was a criminal facing time in prison.
Everyone makes mistakes, and in today’s world it is often hard to escape those bad choices. With the Internet preserving our every move and mistake, we can be haunted by them for our entire lives. Even after Gallagher serves her time in prison, she can never escape the guilt or erase others’ knowledge of her past.
The obvious takeaway from this is to refrain from getting behind the wheel of a vehicle after even one drink. The endless, nagging advice not to drink and drive that we have heard since elementary school rings true from Gallagher’s story, and will hopefully sink into the minds of others and overcome the commonly accepted idea that buzzed driving, or driving a short distance after drinking, is acceptable.
In light of Alcohol Awareness Month, become aware of the easy alternatives to drinking and driving. Rider offers a simple solution in its Safe Rides program, which allows students to call AAA Taxi for a free ride back to campus.
A true friend wouldn’t let someone he or she cares for drink and drive. A quick look through a contact list and a couple of phone calls can prevent a disaster. Even though, in many ways, our society condones and even encourages drinking, don’t let drinking and driving be an option.
Students can also talk to Susan Stanley, the alcohol and sexual assault coordinator, to find out more information if they feel that they or someone they know might have a drinking problem.
An even more valuable lesson can be learned from this tragic event. Running away from mistakes does not erase them, but instead often makes matters worse. Despite how scary it may be to take responsibility for our mistakes, this is unquestionably the wisest route to take.
Students have their entire lives in front of them. That future can darken in the blink of an eye. Death and danger have no boundaries. Students are just as prone to these situations as anyone else.
We cannot go through life believing that we are invincible. Instead, we must realize that every moment of every day is a blessing — a blessing that can be stolen at any second.
The weekly editorial expresses the
majority opinion of The Rider News.
This week’s editorial was written by Copy Editor Sarah Bergen
printed in the 4/16/14 edition