David Aggio drove into a California intersection in the middle of the day in March 2014. Another driver, Rodolfo Alberto Contreras, ran the red light traveling at close to 80 mph, lost control, crossed the center divider, and struck Aggio's oncoming Ford Explorer. Aggio died instantly, according to channel 23 in Bakersfield.
This year, a jury convicted Contreras of "second degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while impaired by marijuana, and DUI by marijuana causing injury. In the almost six years that the District Attorney has had a DUI-focused specialized unit, this is the first conviction for murder by someone impaired by marijuana," the television station reported.
USA Today reported that, according to prosecutors, Contreras's response at the scene to the crime, when confronted about the incident, was: "I want my weed."
The national newspaper reported Thursday that "the percentage of traffic deaths in which at least one driver tested positive for drugs has nearly doubled over a decade, raising alarms as five states are set to vote on legalization of marijuana."
Weed is only part of the explanation. Other illegal drugs and prescription medications are in the mix. Last year, 21 percent of "the 31,166 fatal crashes in the U.S. involved at least one driver who tested positive for drugs," up from 12 percent in 2005. Still, alcohol is twice as likely to be involved in a fatal wreck, with drunken drivers responsible for more that 30 percent of road deaths.
Recreational marijuana is legal in Alaska, Colorado, District of Columbia, Oregon, and Washington state. The five states set to vote on legalization are Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. And there has been talk of it in Texas. All of this despite federal laws against the practice.
These law changes seem inevitable, primarily because pot smoking appears to have less negative consequences than legal alcohol and harsh criminal penalties for possession have landed people in prison despite seemingly hurting no one.
One driver, Contreras, robbed this world of a man lauded in his hometown newspaper as "the father who never missed his kids' sporting events, the parole officer who was loved by colleagues and respected by parolees, the gym rat who worked out seven days a week, the idol of his younger brother, the star high school quarterback, the best friend ever and the neighborhood guy who inspired local kids to be better and reach higher."
Conscience-altering drugs, like marijuana and alcohol, can destroy lives. The California incident reveals how the destruction may occur in both the life of the user and the lives of those around them -- in this case a stranger but in many its close family members.
But I'm a drug user myself. I take some prescribed medicines (one for depression), drink coffee daily, add in a Starbucks Double Shot when I'm driving, and Dr. Pepper is always a treat. The thing about these drugs is they don't impair my ability to function in a positive manner in society; to the contrary, they enhance it. Marijuana, like alcohol, seems to have some positive effects, but they can easily become destructive. The changing laws are going to require us to think anew about the culture within which we live and minister.