Let’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.