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Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP

Essay Eight 2019

Willow Ryan

When the question of how my life was affected by someone else’s negligence is asked, one situation sticks out above all others. While there are many instances in my life which could apply to this question, there is only one that has created such an impact on not only my life, but so many others around me. While I might not have been alive to experience the incident at the time, it continues to affect my life daily.

On the night of Robert Donald Empie Jr.’s (or my Uncle Bobby as he’s better known in my family) 19th birthday in 1982, he was celebrating at a bar called ‘Sebastian’s’ in my town. As the drinking age was 18 at the time, he was celebrating with friends having fun and drinking lots. A night that should have been a night of fun and remembrance, turned into an unforgettable night very quickly. My Uncle Bobby continued to drink until early into the next morning and proceeded to leave the bar with car keys in his hand. One fault of this night was the fact that my Uncle Bobby was very visibly intoxicated. While it is not the job of a business to babysit a customer, it is their job to stop serving someone when they are already visibly not capable of functioning on their own. Further than that, it is not only their responsibility to prevent someone from driving when they are intoxicated, but also the responsibility of the ‘friends’ of the person attempting to drive themselves. That night, no one stopped my Uncle Bobby from walking out of the doors with the keys in his hand or from driving.

After my Uncle Bobby left the bar, obviously very impaired by the alcohol, he made very impulsive decisions that he did not have the capacity to think through before acting on. My Uncle Bobby proceeded to make the decision to drag race his friend. He was speeding at 110 mph on a 30 mph road where he hit a pole and was ejected from his car. He landed in a field to the left of Forts Ferry elementary which was the school he, his siblings, and my mom at the time, was still attending. My Uncle Bobby died on impact. When first responders showed up to the scene, they had a hard time identifying the body due to the force of the impact. A broach that my mom had bought him for his birthday at the time was found on the scene and helped as an identifying object. My mom was 13 at the time of his death.

My mom has been greatly emotionally impacted by her brother’s death and affected my sister and I as she raised us as a single parent. This has not only impacted my mom mentally but also the great void that lingers within my family. I am reminded every September that there is someone in our family missing, an empty chair at the table during the holidays. What I know of my Uncle is only the picture I paint in my head of him from the stories that my mom had told me growing up. His pranks and his sense of humor. She always told me that I would get along with him and that he looks so much like my cousin Patrick.

While I am greatly saddened that I will never know my Uncle, I have also learned from the mistakes of his incident. As I started driving almost two years ago, I know to never drive under the influence of a substance and also never touch alcohol. I have never tried it and live with the fear of being surrounded by it. While this may sound negative, it allows me to take care of others in the way that my Uncle’s friends and the bartender didn’t that night. I can prevent others from making those bad decisions and ending their lives. While my Uncle did die, he did not die in vain. He will be remembered for so much more than his mistake that night and has taught many, including myself to take care of others as he demonstrated everyday. I will prevent another incident like this from happening because that’s what my Uncle would have wanted me to do.

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