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Reflecting on a tragedy

I can't stop thinking about Nick Adenhart.

I never knew him. I never saw him pitch. And I never will.

I won't pretend or write as if I knew him, either.

But there is something so unfair and tragic about a 22-year-old kid, my age, going from the top of the world to six feet under in a matter of hours-and at the hands of a drunk driver, also 22-that writing a column was the only thing I could think to do. And I concede up front that it can't possibly be enough.

For those of you unfamiliar with this story, it's an account easy to retell but impossible to comprehend. Adenhart made his season debut with the Los Angeles Angels last Wednesday and pitched six shutout innings against the Oakland Athletics in front of thousands of fans, including his father, who flew in from Baltimore to watch him pitch. Several hours later, at 12:30 a.m., the rookie was with three friends when their Mitsubishi Eclipse was broadsided by another car, which had run a red light.

Three people in their 20s were killed in an instant, with a fourth still in the hospital recovering from critical condition. I don't know how anyone ever fully recovers, though, from the trauma of losing three friends to a 22-year old driver with a suspended license and a blood alcohol level "substantially over the legal limit," according to police.

The following day, Adenhart's father reportedly walked to the pitcher's mound of an empty Angels Stadium and just stood there in what I only can imagine was the most haunting and heartbreaking of silences.

The contrast between the pinnacle of life and the valley of mourning, separated by mere hours on that small piece of rubber, couldn't be any starker if it were scripted.

Across town, the Hall-of-Fame voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Vin Scully, sent out an on-air condolence on behalf of his organization that perhaps contextualized the situation best.

"If there is one thing I've learned in all my years-and I haven't learned much-but the one thing I've learned, don't even waste your time trying to figure out life," Scully said in between Dodger at-bats.

While I won't waste my time-or yours-trying to figure out life, I will take this chance to try to figure out something equally as enigmatic: why someone would drive under the influence. I understand that choice about as much as I do Adenhart's death, which is to say, not at all.

According to Mother's Against Drunk Driving, 12,998 people died in drunk-driving-related crashes in 2007, which comes out to one person dying every 40 minutes.

From 2006 to 2007, people aged between 18 and 25 drove under the influence at a rate of 22.8 percent.

Three out of every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash in their lifetimes. That's like 60 people in that big lecture class you're sitting in right now.

And the worst part is, while I'd like to think that these statistics are confined to that far-off place of "not where I live" involving those faceless people "not my friends or classmates," I know better.

I've seen individuals, as well as entire groups of people, stumbling through the Blue Zone late at night en route to their cars. I was here when the highest-profile athlete at Duke, J.J. Redick, was arrested for a DWI. I've overheard discussions in which others have passed off driving under the influence as "not that big of a deal"-"it's only a couple blocks," "everything at Duke is so close to everything else," "nothing could possibly happen from here to there."

The air of nonchalance adopted by some on this campus when it comes to drinking and driving is alarming.

Maybe I'm square. Maybe I'm being overdramatic. Maybe I should get off my high horse.

Yet maybe by writing this, at least one person will think twice before getting behind the wheel of a car after one-too-many beers.

Nick Adenhart didn't go to Duke. He didn't even go to college.

But Nick Adenhart was our age. Now he's gone.

I can't stop thinking about it.

And I hope I never do.


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