Sand In My Shoes

Driven Mad With Worry

You can’t save your son from dangerous roads

I am driven to distraction by my kid learning to drive.

I just read a story online about a motorcyclist named David Sargent, 23, of East Quogue, driving his bike on County Road 39 past Magee Street at 7 AM on October 11, when he collided with a SUV driven by Jorge Velasquez, 60, of Riverhead, who was turning left into Suffolk Laundry.

Sargent was pronounced dead at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.

There were no arrests. It appears to be an accident.

A young man’s life is over in a moment of unforgiving fate. The other driver lives forever with the memory. I asked myself: Do I really want to send my kid to driving school?

I grew up in Brooklyn, where I rode the subways, hopped buses, and pedaled a delivery bike as a butcher boy. Deep into my 20s, whenever someone asked what I drove I’d say, “I have two cars: My left car and my right car.”

I didn’t learn to drive a car until I took a job with the Los Angeles Herald Examiner at age 26, where my editor blew a gasket when I informed him on the first day on the job that the only thing I ever drove was a nail. And hammered my thumb.

The Hearst Corporation paid for my driving school in L.A., and soon I was tooling down those mean streets I’d read about in Raymond Chandler novels and speeding the Santa Monica and San Diego freeways in a spanking new red Mustang for which the newspaper had co-signed the lease from Colby Ford.

Now I have a son who is 19, has voted in his first election, a sophomore at an upstate college, and he still doesn’t have a driver’s license. If he’s gonna corkscrew north and south on the Taconic Parkway in the black-ice months of winter, I want him to learn from a professional driving school.

They ain’t cheap.

So, a few weeks back, I started comparative shopping for driving schools in the area where my son lives. Just when I settled on a driving school, I picked up the morning newspaper and read about a driving instructor in Suffolk County who had three teenagers, like my son, in his driving school car. And they suspected that he was as drunk as, well, a Supreme Court Justice.

The kids didn’t need a breathalyzer to decide that Russell Cohen, 58, was zonked. They implored him to stop at McDonald’s in Centereach where they called 911. Cohen, angered that the kids were taking too long in McDonald’s, raced off with thousands of pounds of speeding steel in his fists like a heat-seeking missile.

Cohen ended up rear-ending a 29-year-old female driver in Ridge where cops cuffed him for aggravated driving while intoxicated and endangering the welfare of the three teens. Only sheer luck saved that woman from serious injury or sudden death.

This story filled me with dread.

So did the story in the same week about five Boy Scouts walking on the shoulder of David Terry Road in Manorville when a confessed drunk driver named Thomas Murphy, of Holbrook, plowed into these kids who were filled with life, youth, and civic pride. One of the scouts, Andrew McMorris, 12, a seventh grader at Prodell Middle School, was killed by this drunk behind the wheel.

Murphy’s lawyer read a statement from his client in open court taking full responsibility for his homicide. But little Andrew’s family will be drowning in anguish as kids in costumes ring their doorbell on Halloween, when they stare at an empty chair at their Thanksgiving table, and when they place one less gift this season under the Christmas tree. One imagines there will be tears instead of cheers on New Year’s Eve in the McMorris home as the ball drops.

My son’s mother was almost killed as a teenager by a drunk driver. His aunt was killed by a drunk driver.

These stories and memories made me want to buy my kid new sneakers and an Amtrak pass. Then I remembered covering a couple of horrendous train crashes in years past, one of which claimed the son of a dear friend.

Even if my kid never touched a drop of booze before starting the ignition, these were the treacherous roads I was steering him onto by sending him to driving school.

So, I hesitated.

“Dad, c’mon, please, I gotta get my license,” my son said. I promised I’d call the driving school.

Then came news of the horrendous limo crash killing 20 people in upstate Schoharie, NY when a driver with a suspended license raced down a steep hill, blew through a stop sign in a limo that had not passed inspection, and killed two people in a parking lot before detonating into a tree. Four loving sisters gone in an eye blink. Newlyweds who would never celebrate their first anniversary. All killed in reckless, mangled indignity.

It evoked the horrible July 2015 limo crash in Cutchogue on the North Fork, in which a pickup T-boned the limo, killing four beautiful young women on a winery tour.

Images of dead and mangled young people killed in automobiles flashed in my head.

I hesitated calling the driving school again. But my son implored me to call. His lessons start next week.

As soon as I booked the lessons, I read about the motorcycle colliding with the SUV in Southampton. I thought of canceling the lessons. But instead I grabbed my keys and climbed in my car and drove to work.

denishamill@gmail.com