On Tuesday, 67-year-old George Whalen was sentenced to seven years in prison for three charges arising from his role in the drunk-driving crash that killed Jane Newhook.
You can’t call it an accident, because there was far too much deliberation for it to be in any way accidental.
Whalen drank a dozen beer and a half a flask of rum at a local ball field before getting behind the wheel. After the crash, he tried to walk away from the scene towards his home, carrying still more beer and showing little heed for the woman he had just killed.
Whalen made the decision to drive drunk, and Jane Newhook paid for it.
It was not Whalen’s first conviction by a long shot: he has six previous convictions for driving while impaired, and another for refusing the breathalyzer. He was driving without a licence when the most recent crash occurred. Essentially, he is living proof that there are those among us who are close to incorrigible.
Even the judge in the case agrees that it was only a matter of time until Whalen’s behaviour killed someone, saying it was “nothing short of a miracle that he has not hit someone before.”
The problem now is how to keep him from hitting someone else. The plain truth of it is that Whalen should never be allowed behind the wheel of an automobile again, but it’s proven hard to make that happen.
The likely outcome? Some years down the road, after he gets out of prison, a man who has so far failed to learn a set of serious lessons will probably end up back behind the wheel illegally, and, if history is any guide, will be impaired.
People can, of course, change. Whalen has shown no sign of that ability at this point.
He’s not the only one.
There seems to be a significant number of people for whom the consumption of alcohol is effectively a release of all responsibility — whether they intend to drive when they start to drink or not, they clearly lose the ability to distinguish the dangers they cause by driving.
There comes a point where the question for judges, when setting a proper criminal sentence, shouldn’t focus on rehabilitation, and should instead look directly at protecting the public.
Whalen, and others like him, are a real danger, and ordinary citizens should not have to face his particular game of alcoholic Russian roulette. If he’s a danger when he’s out on the streets, he shouldn’t out on the street.
There are dangers enough on our roads without him.