Trial made me vow to be a better driver

Published 1:18 am Saturday, November 19, 2011

“Sisters share memories and grown-up dreams.”

It was the message on a pink T-shirt that also featured nine names. Deanna VanGieson’s sister wore it to court on Wednesday, the day for which eight sisters had waited four years; the day when they would learn the fate of the man who caused their sister’s untimely death.

Three of those sisters were in Covington County this week. They sat with VanGieson’s daughter; her widower; and with Christy Wright Still’s parents in Judge Lex Short’s courtroom.

Collectively, they held up remarkably well as they listened to the state’s case against David Wiltshire, the driver in a horrible accident that cost the two women their lives. They hugged; they passed each other tissues; they drew support from a victims’ advocate.

When the state entered into evidence a wreck photograph that showed Ms. Still, her mother was visibly shaken, and sobbed openly.

Across the aisle, an older couple – David Wiltshire’s parents – sat alone, holding hands as they waited, different victims of the same tragedy, but with only each other for comfort. Their son is alive, but their heartbreak can be no less.

Witnesses said Wiltshire was driving erratically before the crash. Medical evidence showed he tested positive for marijuana, pain killers, and seizure medication on the day of the wreck. His license had been suspended. Both the prosecution and defense acknowledged that a positive marijuana test does not mean that use of the drug has been recent, and because of that, some legal observers said that result never should have been admitted into evidence.

Wiltshire said weather conditions caused his driving problems.

Already, he has spent four years in the Covington County jail awaiting a trial. Accused of murder, Wiltshire eventually was found guilty of the lesser included offense of manslaughter by a jury of his peers. As a deputy escorted him from the courtroom, I saw him mouth a message to his parents: “I love you.”

As I listened to the evidence and to the verdict, I was reminded again that small choices can cause big consequences, that there but for the grace of God or the randomness of the universe go many of us.

I have seen way too many fatal wrecks in this business to drink and drive. But I have driven when I shouldn’t have, and so have you. Tired. Sleepy. On cold medication.

Yes, I like to drive fast. Yes, I have been distracted by the phone. Yes, I have sent text messages while driving.

And yes.

I. Know. Better.

The question is, having been a witness to this tragedy from the day it happened until the verdict was handled down this week, will I change my bad habits?

I’m going to try. Will you?