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DRINKING AND DRIVING AND DYING
THOMAS LAKE
May 13, 2013
PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES DON'T CAUSE MORE DUI FATALITIES THAN OTHER AMERICANS—THEY JUST MAKE MORE HEADLINES. BUT WITH SO MANY HIGH-PROFILE TRAGEDIES IN RECENT YEARS, WHY DID JOSH BRENT AND JERRY BROWN NOT LEARN FROM THEM?
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May 13, 2013

Drinking And Driving And Dying

PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES DON'T CAUSE MORE DUI FATALITIES THAN OTHER AMERICANS—THEY JUST MAKE MORE HEADLINES. BUT WITH SO MANY HIGH-PROFILE TRAGEDIES IN RECENT YEARS, WHY DID JOSH BRENT AND JERRY BROWN NOT LEARN FROM THEM?

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October 20, 1987

Jerry Jerome Brown Jr. comes along at a strange time in history: a time when humans willingly enter cages of glass and steel that move in such great numbers at such terrific speed that a subtle turn of the steering wheel can easily result in death.

Anyone with clear eyes and a steady hand can accidentally make this subtle turn in a single moment of inattention. And every night in every county in every state, probably on every road, someone tries to avoid this mistake while drunk. In 1987 on the roads of the U.S., 23,632 people will die in alcohol-related car crashes. If today is an average day, these crashes will kill 65 more people by midnight. If the deaths come at regular intervals, they will come every 22 minutes.

A thin crescent moon rises at 5:03 a.m. over the hospital in St. Louis where a 19-year-old factory worker named Stacey Irons waits for her son. He is two weeks past due. She has been here since yesterday morning. The labor-inducement drugs are not working. Fluid builds up. The pain is excruciating. That's gonna be a good baby, says Stacey's mother, Theresa Clark. 'Cause he's takin' his time.

Two hours and 12 minutes pass between moonrise and sunrise. Six more dead. The boy's father, Jerry Brown, stands at the bedside. He calls Stacey his first love. In eight months they'll be married; in eight years, divorced. Twelve years after that a state trooper will find Jerry Sr. drunk in a Chevy Blazer on the side of an interstate with his seven-year-old daughter and an open bottle of beer.

Afternoon comes with a high of 55°. The doctors break Stacey's bag of waters, hoping the boy will arrive before the Cardinals game. He does not. The Twins lead the World Series two games to none. John Tudor throws the first pitch of Game 3 at 7:30 p.m. in a stadium named for a king of beer.

Gone are the days when Mickey Mantle could get hammered at dinner and drive home at 60 mph and collide with a telephone pole and launch his wife through the windshield without being arrested or appearing in the news. Mothers Against Drunk Driving is seven years into its sobering campaign. It has more than 300 chapters, 600,000 volunteers, the approval of President Reagan. In public-opinion polls, MADD will soon be named the country's favorite charity. On billboards, radio and television, the message is ubiquitous: Friends don't let friends drive drunk. But MADD has a long crusade ahead. Twenty years from now the Cardinals will ban alcohol from the clubhouse after manager Tony La Russa falls asleep at the wheel from too much wine and pitcher Josh Hancock dies from smashing drunk into a flatbed truck.

The doctor puts the game on the radio. The Twins take a 1--0 lead in the sixth, but the Cardinals score three in the seventh on a two-run double by Vince Coleman and an RBI single by Ozzie Smith. The game lasts two hours and 45 minutes. Seven more dead. The Cardinals will win 3--1. At 9:54 p.m., Jerry Jr. is born. He weighs less than six pounds. Stacey looks in amazement at the tiny creature who's been kicking her in the ribs.

Elsewhere tonight, in bars across Missouri, the best baseball fans in America celebrate their victory with cold American beer. Then they get on the road.

October 20, 1988

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