50-75%: Portion of convicted drunk drivers who still drive on a suspended license.
—Mothers Against Drunk Driving
MY DAUGHTER MOIRA BANKS-DOBSON was having a good day on February 28, 2012, a week before her 25th birthday. She had just been hired to care for twin toddlers who were crazy about her — kids always loved Moira — and with her other job tutoring special-needs children, she’d soon be able to afford a place of her own. She was excited to take the next big step in her life, but I was going to miss her.
Around 6:30 p.m., Moira was driving home to Sheffield for dinner. She was about 3 miles away from our house when a 3-ton pickup smashed into a car in front of her, nearly killing the 52-year-old man inside, then crushed her Toyota. In a flash of fire and glass it was all over.
At home, I was wondering why I hadn’t heard from Moira when two police cars pulled up our driveway, lights flashing. I knew something was wrong. I walked out to meet the officers, who insisted we go inside to talk. That’s when I knew it was really bad. They told me Moira had been killed in a car accident.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I learned it was not an “accident” at all. The driver of the truck, a 35-year-old man from Connecticut named Frederick Weller, had been convicted of drunken driving at least six times in the past, and Sheffield police say he was drinking on February 28, too. So I don’t call what Weller did to Moira an accident. I call it murder. (Weller has pleaded not guilty to vehicular homicide while under the influence and other charges.)
I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the huge differences between Moira and the man who killed her. An incredibly gifted singer, athlete, and scholarship-winning student, Moira graduated magna cum laude from the Hotchkiss School in 2005 and then from Yale University, where she was a popular singer and rowed varsity crew. She had a rare blend of great talent and great humility and a remarkable empathy that anyone who met her could feel.
I look at Weller and see the complete absence of empathy. The police say he was driving without a license that night; it was long ago suspended. That never stopped him from getting loaded and getting behind the wheel, this time in a truck registered to his wife. When he was arrested, he often abused the police and others. This time, police say he tried fleeing the scene and threatened a bystander who stopped to help.
The most difficult thing for me to accept is that there were plenty of opportunities to stop Weller. The last time he was arrested for drunken driving, in New York in 2010, the police booked him on two felony charges based on his long record. Yet he ultimately was allowed to plead guilty to “first offense” drunken driving, a misdemeanor. His sentence was a $750 fine that he didn’t bother to pay.
After my daughter’s death, the prosecutor in New York said he’d never received Weller’s full criminal record — “It happens,” he told a reporter — but he had six months before the trial to get it. The truth is, he and the court system failed Moira and everyone who loved her.
I don’t think another father should ever have to hear that his child has died as a result of a paperwork problem. It is time that we wake up the public servants we trust to enforce the laws about drunken driving. More important, states must unite their communication systems and pass consistent laws that take repeat offenders off the road permanently.
I blame Frederick Weller for killing Moira, but I also hold accountable ineffective courts and unconcerned lawmakers who let people like him walk time and time again. They share responsibility for the fact that my beautiful daughter never made it home to me that February night, and for the fact that she’ll never be coming home again.
Ted Dobson owns Equinox Farm in the Berkshires. Send comments to email@example.com.