Christopher Watson was a bright-eyed young man who wanted to take in everything the world had to offer; someone who liked to have fun. A person who was genuinely happy.
That’s what I see when I look at his photo.
I also look at his face and cannot imagine the hole left in the heart of his parents right now. A drunken-driver took Christopher’s smile away from them. He was only 15.
The drunken driver, John Robinson, had his day in court last week — actually three days in court — and once again, the unimaginable horror of May 2, 2018, played out.
Robinson began drinking in Lima that afternoon, and by evening, he had made his way up the road to a bar in Beaverdam. He drank some more until 11:30 p.m. He then walked out of the bar, sat behind the steering wheel of a Ford F-350 pickup and drove the wrong way down an exit ramp onto Interstate 75, heading south in the northbound lane.
Within 15 minutes, Robinson would slam his vehicle head-on into a Ford Explorer driven by Richard Watson, who was on his way home to Ypsilanti, Michigan. Watson had taken his wife and four children on vacation to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. They had just three hours left in their voyage until they could crawl into their own beds and call it a night.
What happened instead was one more tragic story involving a drunken driver.
One more innocent victim killed.
One more family shattered.
And the same question being asked one more time: What’s it going to take to convince people not to drink and drive?
Every day 30 people die as a result of drunken driving crashes, the National Highway Institute tells us. That’s one person every 48 minutes. Another 800 people are left injured each day.
These aren’t just statistics. They’re not a group of lonely numbers. They represent dads, moms, grandparents and cousins. Neighbors and co-workers. And, yes, 15-year-old boys.
It’s heartbreaking to imagine what it was like for the Watsons on May 2 when they were all together one last time.
My guess is they enjoyed some fun conversations and shared some laughter during the 1,000 miles they had put between themselves and the Magic Kingdom as they cruised past Lima on I-75. With four children — ages 18, 15, 11 and 10 — in the back seats of their Explorer, there had to be some good-nature teasing also taking place. That’s how such vacation trips typically go.
It’s family time, and the unthinkable isn’t supposed to happen.
Christopher’s death shook up Lincoln Middle School, where he attended in Ypsilanti. In the days following the crash, crisis counselors were brought in to help others deal with the tragedy.
As for the Watson family, they attended last week’s trial. Some family members had to leave the courtroom briefly Thursday as testimony became emotional. Jurors could be seen dabbing their eyes with tissue and fighting back tears.
An uncle of Christopher’s mother, Pastor Louis Frye, spoke on the family’s behalf prior to the sentencing of Robinson. He told Robinson, “The family forgives you. We have to forgive you so we can go on with our lives. We’re going to go on. We’re going to make it.”
Robinson offered an apology to the family, but it was clouded by his blaming the accident on a failed GPS system and what he called a confusing exit ramp. It was as if he believed his drinking didn’t count. Judge Terri Kohlrieser would hear none of it and gave the 65-year-old Robinson a 27½-year prison sentence that likely will keep him locked up the rest of his life.
You don’t ever get justice when you lose a child to a drunk. The best you can do is to get the strength to put one foot in front of the other and move forward.
That’s easier said than done.
Next time I see my kids, you can bet I’m going to give them a hug. You do the same with your children.
ROSES AND THORNS: The sound of a football coach’s whistle is being heard in the rose garden.
Rose: To Doug Adams, who recently celebrated 35 years of coaching football by guiding the Elida Rebels to the local midget league Super Bowl championship. The Rebels had not been scored upon until the championship game. At the team banquet, he was presented with a Rebels Jersey bearing number 35.
Rose: To Joe Sawmiller, who organized a special deer bow hunting trip for disabled veterans.
Rose: To Ruth Burnfield of Spencerville, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Nov. 11.
Rose: To Denny Latham, of Wapakoneta, and his son, Brett. They made a father-son project out of the restoration of a 1978 Ford F-150. The truck has been in the family for 15 years and is often taken to car shows.
Thorn: To Jennifer Henkle, who is the latest public official caught with her hand in the cookie jar. An audit by the state showed that Henkle withdrew $2,000 from the McDonald/Roundhead Joint Recreational District. She was ordered to serve 20 days in jail and pay back $8,068, which includes the price of the audit.
PARTING SHOT: In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.