Sorry you couldn’t stay

July 1, 2000
Last month, Michelle Raydin and her husband, Marc, pulled into the parking lot of a Starbucks coffee shop in Englewood, N.J

Last month, Michelle Raydin and her husband, Marc, pulled into the parking lot of a Starbucks coffee shop in Englewood, N.J. Michelle went inside, while Marc waited in the family van, playing a video game with one of his sons. Moments later, the sound of shattering glass erupted as the driver of a red Mustang plowed through the shop window and into the main seating area.

Marc rushed inside, and found Michelle, who had been standing in line, safe and sound. But another patron, a man who had been sitting alone by the window, wasn’t as fortunate. He was pinned against the car’s grille. Raydin immediately went to aid the injured fellow, who just seconds earlier was sipping coffee and working on his laptop computer. “I just kept telling the man, ‘Stay with us,’ “ Raydin said.

Apparently it wasn’t a matter of choice. The man died.

We would have heard a lot more about this tragic story, I’m sure, if the assailant was a gun-wielding thug rather than a fifty-something drunk driver behind the wheel of a latemodel Mustang GT.

We would’ve learned, for example, that the man so suddenly and violently taken was Jeffrey Alan Willick, a brilliant astrophysicist and one of Stanford University’s most beloved and energetic professors. Willick, a resident of Palo Alto, Calif., was in New Jersey for Father’s Day visiting his dad, Martin, a prominent psychiatrist and lecturer at Columbia University.

Another painful fact we’d have had to come to grips with was that Jeff was only 40. He leaves behind a wife, Ellen, and two small children, Jason and Emily. In addition, Ellen is pregnant and soon due with the couple’s third child. We never heard any of this, of course, because drunk driving isn’t the political hot button that shooting is. But maybe it should be.

Since 1980, 2,300 drunk-driving laws have been passed in the U.S. Yet, 2.6 million accidents involving alcohol victimize an estimated 4 million innocent people each year. Meanwhile, as battle lines are being drawn over gun laws – laws more likely to inconvenience lawabiding citizens than stop criminals – drunk driving continues to be the nation’s most frequently committed violent crime. In fact, more Americans have died in alcohol-related traffic accidents than in all the wars combined.

Statisticians may argue that the death toll from drunk driving has actually dropped since 1980, but try telling that to Ellen, Jason, Emily, and the unborn child who will never know the love of his or her father.

The fact is, each year almost two million people die unnecessarily because our politicians haven’t figured out that no amount of laws will ever take the place of personal responsibility – whether it’s in regard to drunk driving, owning a firearm, or having the “right” to terminate an unplanned pregnancy. These aren’t statistics, these are human beings like you, me, and Jeff Willick.

I wish there was enough space here to pass along some of the refreshingly honest and stimulating things I’ve read on Jeff’s website. But you can go there yourself and discover the man and his ideas on your own. In the meantime, if you’d like to make a donation to help Jeff’s family in their time of need, you can send a check, payable to the Jeffrey Willick Memorial Fund, to: Stanford Federal Credit Union, P.O. Box 10690, Palo Alto, CA 94303-0843.

If there is any encouragement for me in any of this, it was a message posted by one of Jeff’s fellow faculty members who also happens to be a neighbor. “A number of friends are planning to provide dinners for Ellen for the first week after she returns and once a week after that, beyond the time the baby is due. If you would like to bring a dinner, the following dates are available for signup: July 9, July 30, August 13, Sept 3, Sept 10, Sept 24, Oct 1, and Oct 8.”

Thank God for compassionate friends. It sounds like the Willick family has quite a few.

– Larry Berardinis
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