I’ve never been able to write this story because I’m sure I had no right to do what I did and I figured maybe someone would come knocking on my door and cart me away and put me in prison. IT happened to me more than twenty years ago AND FINALLY I decided to write it down to tell you why I did what I did that day.
I had been driving home to a Canadian city and noticed the car ahead of me swerve a number of times. I worried about whether the driver was drunk, suffering a heart attack, or possibly falling asleep at the wheel. Soon the reason for his erratic behavior became clear. The driver swerved to the left crossing the yellow line, threw out a beer bottle and swerved back into his own lane. He was drunk.
Once past the man, I breathed a sigh of relief yet I continued to watch him in my rear view mirror. I thought, “What if he crashes into some family and everyone is killed? Won’t I be partly to blame for seeing his condition and not stopping him?” I argued with myself. “Am I my brother’s keeper and how on earth could I stop him anyway? ” By now I was getting further ahead because the drunk was having problems and he was already at least 15 Km per hour under the acceptable speed.
I had been away and out of contact. I just wanted to get home to my family. “Oh Balderdash” I thought, why do I have to be responsible for a drunk stranger?” I slowed down and knew I had to try to find a way to get the man off the road. I was so focused on that problem that I never even thought about what I would do with him if I did get him off the road. Worse yet, I never thought about what he might do to me if I tried to interfere into his life. I continued to slow until the drunk caught up to me and then I allowed him to pass. By now the beginning of a plan had formed in my mind.
Once he had passed me I matched his speed and pulled alongside him in the other lane. I honked at him and he looked at me. Using hand signals I tried to tell him to please pull over and park. I could see the confusion on his face quite easily. He did not understand what I wanted of him. Now what?
By now he had slowed even more and was traveling at the speed acceptable on most city streets. The drunk was confused but continued driving. I was lost as to what else to do. I once again pictured a crash scene in my mind, with people crying in terror, bloodied bodies and the ultimate loss that people could suffer. I knew I had to try again to get his attention.
I kept pace with the drunk driver, always remaining in my own lane. I honked again and when he glanced over at me, I motioned for him to stop. This time he pulled over onto the paved shoulder of the road, but continued moving along, only now his speed was about what he would be driving if he was in a school zone. Relieved that he was slowing so much, I thought surely he intended to stop. Then I watched with horror as he lost control of his car.
The ditches in that area were large and I have seen cars drive in and right out of them again. The drunk was going slowly enough that by the time he lost control his car just drove right down at an angle into the ditch. Then he stopped and didn’t move to get out.
I pulled over, parked and ran down to his car. I had no thought to encountering an angry man. I rapped on his window, calling out, “Are you all right?”
He sat there for some five seconds then opened the window and nodded yes, accompanied by some words which I also took to mean yes. I explained to him why I needed him to stop. I told him I could not allow him to drive in his condition. I spoke of how devastated he would be if, in his drunken state he killed someone on the road. I said “You would be haunted for the rest of your life.”
He began explaining how he came to be in the state he was in, mentioning a party the night before and how he had also been up all night. I asked him for his car keys and told him I would get him out of the ditch. I helped him out and told him to go on up to my car. His car was full of the evidence of his physical state, numerous, empty alcohol containers.
Throughout all of this, even faced with getting his car out of the ditch, I was calm, unworried. I only knew that it was important that the man not drive his car that day, not in his very inebriated state. I was now realizing that I had a drunk on my hands and had no plans on what to do with him next. My mind was racing, searching for an idea. If I took him in my car that would leave his car stranded , over an hour from the city.
Once I had the car safely out of the ditch I walked over to him and explained again that I could not let him drive. He stood there leaning against my car, muscular enough to deck me yet attentively listening and accepting my decisions.
While I was talking to him and listening for the second time to how and why he had come to be in this condition I made my second big decision of that day, a way to get him home safely. We were on a stretch of road that was flat and enabled us to see for quite a few miles. It was not a busy highway. That had been a blessing up until this point, but now to complete the second phase of my new plan, I needed traffic. I needed anther car to come by because I needed more help.
As if on schedule I could see a car coming in the distance. I asked the gentleman to just stay with my car and trust me to take care of things. He offered no arguments. He used my car to hold himself up and like an obedient child he waited.
I placed myself in the pathway of the ongoing car and flagged it down. I spoke to the four men inside. “I need one of you men to drive this man’s car into the city. I can not allow him to drive. He is too drunk to be behind the wheel of a car, ” I explained and even as I spoke the passenger in the front was putting on his shoes and saying yes. To the others I explained the situation and told them I needed them to drive the man home. They all just kept on nodding yes and said okay.
I walked over to my car and told the drunk of the arrangements, assuring him that both he and his car would arrive home safely. That’s when he reached out to me. He took my hand with one hand and placed his other hand on my arm. I felt no apprehension. He smiled at me and said, “I want to thank you for caring. No one has ever done something like this for me. I just thank you, so much for caring about me, and others. You are just so unbelievable.”
I took my hand and squeezed his shoulder. To this day I have no recollection of what I said to him in response. I remember the wetness in the corners of his eyes. I remember walking him to the car of the good Samaritans who would take him safely home and I remember feeling that I had done what needed to be done so now I could continue my journey.
Ellie Braun-Haley [email protected]
Ellie believes that her encounter with the drunk “was one of those times when God sends his angels to watch over everyone concerned. Everyone involved knew what had to be done, and we did it.”Ellie says, “I still worry about people who drink and then sit behind the wheel of a vehicle.” Ellie has a number of books and short stories published.