The strange gift of grandchildren

IMG_2454Let’s just say this off the top: I have seven wonderful grandchildren because of a horrible decision made by this man.

Michael Knybel chose to get behind the wheel and drive drunk, and then a very bad thing happened. Drunk driving accidents are not accidents. They are, instead, a series of bad decisions that can be the vehicular equivalent of playing a lethal game of chance with others’ lives.

You may drive drunk and arrive in your own driveway with nary a scratch.

Or you can do what Knybel did. You can cross the center line, and slam into a vehicle driven by someone like Darren Fegan, the father of my five oldest (step) grandchildren. (The photo up top was taken a couple of years ago, on Easter, in the family’s front yard.)

That fatal crash was not Knybel’s first rodeo — nor, as it turns out, was it his last. The Courant ran a comprehensive story about the man on Sunday, and I spread it around on social media, but what I didn’t say was this:

  • I went to Knybel’s sentencing back in ’09 because I thought I could help wrangle the triplets, then the youngest of the grandchildren, during a difficult time. They would have been — what? — 8? 9? Their mother wanted them to come to court for some kind of closure on the events that took their dad. They were dressed for church and their hair was done just so, and I stood with them in the lobby after Knybel was sent to prison. One of his family members walked by my daughter-in-law, who was standing nearby, and said something like, “Happy now?” — as if my daughter-in-law had campaigned to send a poor man (who at the time of the crash was high on cocaine and beer) to jail. My daughter went to rush her (an act I must say I admire), her (former) father-in-law stood in between, and I hustled the girls into a side office. I didn’t know what was going to happen in the lobby, but I didn’t think the girls needed to see it. The girls saw just enough to hiccup and cry while I and a nice court official tried to distract them with talk about their pretty dresses. I remember telling them that sometimes grown-ups said and did things they regretted later, and maybe that family member would realize she shouldn’t have said that to their mommy. To that point:
  • I cannot emphasize how wonderful are Darren Fegan’s children, and I give massive credit to their incredibly supportive family for how they are turning out. The family has, as they say, a deep bench. There are aunties and grandparents and uncles and cousins, all of whom have stepped in at various points to do what was needed. And at the center of it is a woman of incredible strength, my daughter-in-law. When I post something about the family on Facebook, people often compliment me on my influence, which is, in a word, horseshit. I’m a bystander. This family was fully functioning — loud, funny, and indifferent to what you think of them — before I dipped my toe in it.
  • Originally, the  union of my son and daughter-in-law was not to produce children. They had, after all, five children already and the children were grieving and the children needed attention. This was a decision with which I wholeheartedly agreed. I wasn’t in on the conversations that went into the existence of my two biological grandchildren. That was a decision I wholeheartedly disagreed with, but what I do know?
  • Very little, as it turns out. As I type this, they have figured out how to download YouTube Kids on my iPad because they’re awesome.
  • Addiction is an awful thing. I don’t know a single family — including my own — that is untouched by it. I know that coming down hard on serial offenders may push them far down the economic ladder. If you lose your right to drive, how do you get to work? If you can’t get to work, how do you support yourself? But if someone cannot hear sane voices over their own addiction, then that person is a loaded gun, just waiting to go off.
  • This family is going to be fine. They’ve learned far more than they should know about loss and grief and recovery, but they’re wonderful people. The lessons have helped make the older children independent and competent near-adults. They speak freely about their loss, and as weird as it sounds, I think I would have liked Darren Fegan. I know I like his children. When the younger two (my son’s biological children, and my biological grandchildren), talk about the older children’s daddy in heaven, the older children just smile. This family is going to be fine, but
  • Connecticut has to lessen the possibility that someone will drive drunk and take out any more fathers, children, grandparents. Period.

4 responses to “The strange gift of grandchildren

  1. Car breathalyzers that can only be unlocked by law enforcement, (in case of malfunction), need to be standard equipment on all motor vehicles to aid in protecting the public from scofflaws like Knybel. Ignition interlocks on selected offender vehicles are just not good enough. There’s always another car available.

    But that’s not going to happen. Because most people in this country drink. And drive. And if their liability carrier could discover how often they played with that precarious balancing act between impaired (“I can handle it.“) and intoxicated (“Handle…what’s that?“)? Well…that just wouldn’t be fair. An unwarranted impingement of personal freedom. After all, impaired driving (<0.08BAC) isn't illegal. And in most jurisdictions cannot even be mentioned in court cases involving tort claims connected to motor vehicle operations.

    It's every American's God Given™ right to be free to kill someone. Until they do. Then? It's a bad thing.

    Where I live, there's a 30% chance that the person speeding up to your rear bumper is intoxicated. Add impaired to that and it increases to 50%. Puts a whole different perspective on "armed and dangerous."

    • Good Lord. Is that figure for real?

      • I think so…based on what I’ve read from CDC reports, MADD analyses, other analyses of CDC/Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data, and personal observations and experience, (which includes 30 some years of drinking…and driving). But it’s not scientific. (Mostly because the serious tallies don’t start until somebody dies.) And personally? I think it’s a conservative estimate.

        But let’s look here.
        We have a self-reported “prevalence” rate…people who admit in a BRFSS survey to driving while intoxicated within a 30 day period…of almost twice the national average.
        Our death rate per 100,000 (91) is almost three times the national average (37.5).
        Looking at this PDF report from our State government, we had a DUI arrest rate of 523.8 per 100,000 in 2014. (My county traditionally leads the State in incidents of DUI.)
        The CDC reports that in 2014 the national arrest rate was 349.4 per 100,000. That’s one percent of the 121 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year. If that national percentage statistic is even close to the self-reporting incidences here, (which would be a conservative estimate based on comparisons of other data), that means about half of my entire county could be drunk/impaired behind the wheel at any given time of day.

        And they’re probably armed.

        Welcome to Montana! Be sure to buckle up for safety!

  2. CT and the rest of the country need to do more. My brother-in-law’s family lost a young man in a horrible situation that involved drunk driving (in MA) where one cousin was responsible for the death of another cousin. There was the tragic loss of that young person, the awful guilt and jail time for his cousin, and the split in the family. Family members had to choose a side and so nearly half of the family was essentially lost as a result. It was different for sure in that it was more of an isolated drinking and driving incident, and was not repeated. I can only imagine what it must be like because I see these things from a distance.

    What your daughter-in-law must have gone through, to not only have to deal with her own grief and anger due to the sudden and tragic loss, but to also be needed to comfort her 5 children, is something beyond my imagination. I admire her strength and all who rallied to support the whole family.

    Alcoholism is complicated. Some people get lost in it and some people rise above and overcome it. It is a choice, as you say. Though as I understand it, it’s not an easy road to overcome it and support is needed along the way. Surely we could do better with treatment if the funds were available. In the meantime, we know that people will drink and then make poor decisions that could end up harming or killing someone. We have technology that could reduce the risk of drinking and driving. We need to have the dedication to investing in it and political will to legislate in a way that protects us from drunk drivers. When you consider the enormous budget dedicated to the military to “keep us safe” from foreign threats, we should be doing and spending a lot more to protect us from everyday domestic threats like drunk driving. Almost 10,000 people were killed in 2014 due to drunk driving. That’s more than 3 times the number of people killed on 9-11, and it happens every year. Why is there not more outrage? What you said – we can do better.

    You have a wonderful family, Susan. That’s a beautiful photo!

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