William Pritchard, Baltimore, Maryland, June 1986

by Thomas Pritchard

He was 54, my dad. I was 12, his son. It was summer vacation 1986.

An hour earlier he asked if my friend and I wanted to go on a bike ride with him. We said "Thanks but we're going to jump bikes off curbs a few streets away".

Dad to me: "Be safe. I love you."
Me to dad: "I will. I love you too."

In the heat of that day, my friend and I became thirsty so we headed to the corner take-out for sodas.

On our way there we saw a small group of people in the road. Every so often another person would slowly walk over. They all surrounded a car.

Hands held over gaping mouths. They murmured quietly, "...yea, he was on a bicycle...the driver is over there". My friend and I stood around for about a minute then he said, "Come on. Let's go."

I jumped up to see over the heads of the adults and I spied legs hanging out of the windshield of the car. A black sports car.

Me, softly, to my friend: "I know those jeans."
Friend to me: "Come on man. Let's go."
Me, even softer, to my friend: "I know those shoes."
Friend to me: "I'm leaving."
Me, shaken, to my friend: "Hold my bike."

Reality was setting in.

I crawled through legs, shouldered between bodies and punched a man who tried to hold me back: The stark, cold and lonely reality that is now my shadow.

My other friend's neighbor had heard the sounds and was the first on the scene. He was administering CPR: "(name)!!! Come on!!! Don't leave us!!!"

Slowly walking around the open passenger door I felt disconnected from my body. And there, in that early evening sun on an otherwise perfect summer day, was my dad, my life, laying on his neck in the passenger seat of that black sports car. His legs dangling through the windshield, his shirt ripped open. Blood and a newly misshapen head.

My voice wavered, "Daaad?"

The neighbor backed off from across the driver seat.

He to me: "I'm sorry Tommy."
I looked at him.
He to me: "I'm sorry...He's too far gone."
I looked at my dad.

My voice wavered, "Daaad."

The world went mute. Toneless. Noiseless. There was no sound. Just that image, that scene. The one that took 15 years to remember. The freckles on dad's chest and the way his head was misshapen.

Large hands gently placed themselves on my shoulders. A police officer knelt down beside me.

He, softly, to me: "Is this your father?"

I shook my head in acknowledgment.

I remember police arguing with a young man. There was pointing. There was confrontation. I remember a ride in a police car to a parking lot, the helicopter landing. I remember a friend from school say "Oh my God. It's Tommy!" and the ride in the police car to the hospital.

About a year later (time stood still for me), in the courts, the judge asked the family of the "deceased" to stand up. Mom and sisters were in the back row. I sat in the second row right behind the driver. I wanted a really good long look at him to the point of burning his image on my retina.

Judge to us: "Please tell us your name and your relationship to the Plaintiff."

Mom and sisters said their bit.

Judge to me: "And who are you, young man?"

Me to the court: "I am the decea..." I corrected myself: "I am William Pritchard's son."

The judge said to us: "Well. I'm sure your husband and father did nothing wrong but I just can't find anything that would have me find the defendant guilty of any wrong-doing."

Now in 2011, to the driver I say:
"My advice is do not forget the 'Get out of jail free' card that was dealt you. Do you still have the stopwatch you used that day?"

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