George Heroux lives in Springfield and is an attorney and the executive director/attorney for Victim Impact Speakers, a nonprofit organization that assists families and victims of drunk driving crashes. He has worked for Mothers Against Drunk Driving and continues to assist victims of drunk drivers and speak to first-time DUI offenders in 14 counties throughout the state. But For the Crash, his fictional retelling inspired by an accident that one cop describes as the “worst he had seen in his 20 years as a police officer,” will be of particular interest to Springfieldians who remember the March 2001 accident. Several college students on spring break were hit head-on at I-55 and I-72 by a drunk driver who was in the wrong lanes.
In Heroux’s fictionalized version, students from a Christian college are donating their spring break to help fix up a church in New Orleans. Three students die.
The novel is a 170-page self-published book with a blood-crimson cover. Recently more and more talented authors are taking this path. Frankly, I can think of more reasons to self-publish than not to. John Grisham sold copies of his first legal thriller, A Time to Kill, out of his trunk. Later it was picked up by a mainstream publisher, and he was on his way. Some extremely talented local authors, like Lola Lucas, Ann Hartsfield and Gary Smith, have self-published beautiful books. These days, unless you are writing about vampires or already have a well-known name, finding a publisher is a long shot. Of course, you can’t get a well-known name unless you publish something or you happen to be someone, like Levi Johnson or Bristol Palin, who both just signed book deals.
In Heroux’s account, the drunk driver, Walter Caine, a credit manager for a local auto dealership, is out celebrating a sales record with other members of his sales team. On the way to his home in Sherman, north of Springfield, he turns onto the southbound lanes, where the students are heading south. Here the author goes into detail about how alcohol affects the mind. We are given precise information on how the crash happened and the dynamics that caused the deaths of three victims and the survival of one. Heroux treats the students tenderly as we move through each phase of notifying families. Immediately we see the effects on the victims’ families. One marriage comes unraveled.
Once past the crash, Heroux gets involved in the business of the court. The author departs from the story line to explain the legal process, especially for the layperson. For example, I didn’t realize the distinction between plea bargaining and plea negotiating. This section is so thorough about the law as it pertains to DUI that it would make a cautionary tale for teens getting their first driver’s license.
Caine pleads guilty, so the parents prepare for a sentencing hearing. They write a victims’ statement. Most want to ask for the maximum (28 years), but one father gives a moving speech and, because of that, the judge sentences Caine to only 10 years. Following this is an intricate telling of how the crash and the deaths of these young people affect each person’s life. This not only includes the victims, parents and the drunk driver, but the judges and attorneys.
The book is not without missteps. Characters and plot threads are numerous. Intricate details, while informative, sometimes slow the story down. As the novel ends, the neatly arranged events occasionally seem implausible. But Heroux’s message is strong and clear: drinking and driving takes a tremendous toll on everyone. The survivors pay the most painful price: parents, siblings, friends and loved ones are left behind to deal with the tragedy.
But For the Crash is available at Barnes & Noble, the Robert Morris University book store, on Amazon.com and through the website www.vicitmimpactspeakers.com.
Martha Miller is a Springfield writer whose latest book, Retirement Plan: A Crime Story, comes out May 16, 2011. The book is available in paperback and as an ebook from any bookseller, as well as through Martha’s site: www.marthamiller.net.