I started trying to imagine what I would do when I suddenly remembered that I have been faced with this situation – not the exact same situation, but something similar. On a warm summer evening, the Railroad Police called me down to help a vehicle owner, who had somehow wandered into a section of their railroad yard and had high-centered his Pontiac on a track changer. This was no small feat. The track changer was at least a foot high, and the vehicle was way up on there. It was a major feat for me to back my truck across multiple sets of railroad tracks and then lift the car straight up off of the track changer. The lower engine has sustained significant damage, so I hooked up the car and began to offer options to the vehicle owner.
This guy was barely conscious. He had no idea where he was, no idea what had happened, and no understanding of what he could do at that point. The Railroad Police are a private security division of whatever Railroad company they work for, so they were not positioned to arrest the man. They chose not to call the actual Police, possibly because the guy clearly wasn’t going anywhere. Instead, they passed him off to me, trusting that I would handle it correctly, or at least content that he and his vehicle were now on the right track, so to speak.
One problem was that he had no cash and no credit cards. He wanted me to tow his car home. He lived 80 miles away. Without guaranteed payment, I wasn’t about to do that. I told him I would have to impound his vehicle, which was probably better anyway, because he would have sober times ahead to decide what to do with it. I could have towed it to a dealership or shop where we had an account that I could bill to, but he was from out-of-town, and I thought his insurance might have to be involved, so our storage lot seemed like the best place for the car.
Now what about the owner? He wanted me to drive him to the airport. Not to catch a flight to nowhere, but to rent a car. Yes, he intended to secure a vehicle that still had a working oil pan and drive it 80 miles down I-5. I pointed out that he didn’t have any credit cards, so no one was likely to rent him a car, and that no rental car agency was likely to allow him behind the wheel. Although I don’t know for sure what procedures rental car companies have in place to prevent sending Foster Brooks down the road in a new SUV. Without money, he couldn’t even get a motel room and sleep it off. I could have simply drove him to the airport and let him figure it out. I could have even pushed him out the front door of the storage lot and left him alone, broke, and drunk in a questionable part of town. Finally, what I did was drive him home. My shift was over, and I felt sorry for the guy, so I drove him home. I asked for his driver’s license, so that I could map it out before he lost consciousness, which he did almost right away. I silently prayed that he wouldn’t throw up in the truck, and he didn’t, so I guess that prayer got answered.
I’ve dealt with many inebriated vehicle owners. One young man who had wrecked his car could seemingly speak only gibberish, so I took his car to our storage lot, where he refused to get out of the truck. Violently. After an hour or so of attempted alien communication, I got him to write down a phone number, and I called his roommate to come get him. Even that guy had a hard time getting him out of the tow truck. I guess he just like the comfort of the seat.
His wreck was a single-car wreck, and I remember another case of a single-car wreck in which the Police piled the driver into my truck and went on their way. These incidents were pre-2000, so perhaps it was a different era, but on both of these occasions, law enforcement sent criminally intoxicated citizens back into circulation after they totaled their vehicles, probably because the accidents did not involve other motorists, and probably because they didn’t want anyone to throw up in their patrol car. In the other case, the gentleman told me to tow his car to his home, and then he passed out before I could finish hooking up his car, and I couldn’t wake him up to ask where he lived. I had to push him onto his side and pry his wallet out of his pocket to get his driver’s license. Fortunately, he had credit cards, so I knew it was a safe move to tow him home, rather than to impound the vehicle. When we got there, his wife (I am guessing) came out and removed him from the truck and agreed to pay for the tow. I told her the Police had turned a blind eye to his state, and she looked a little disappointed to hear the news.
I agree with Mr. Resch that we have a responsibility to help, as well as to prevent further harm. We aren’t police officers, and we don’t have breathalyzers, and we aren’t social workers, but we can be helpful and creative. Using our helpfulness and creativity to make the roadways safer is its own reward.