In Oklahoma last year, Tyler Alred swerved off the road at 4 a.m. and hit a tree. His passenger was ejected from the vehicle and died. Alred admitted to drinking before the fateful drive and while his blood-alcohol level was below the legal limit, he was underage. In August Alred pled guilty to manslaughter in the first degree. Instead of sentencing the driver to a prison term, Oklahoma District Court Judge Mike Norman gave Alred a 10-year deferred sentence with probationary terms. The terms included graduating from high school, taking regular drug and alcohol tests, and going to church every week for the next ten years.
The tragedy of this story is two-fold.
First, someone lost their life. Alred's 16-year-old passenger died before his life even started. The circumstances of the accident remind me that life is fragile. 16 is too young to worry about much more than acne, prom dates, and college essays. One of my youngest brother's best friends died in a tragic accident in Laurens, SC when they were both teenagers. In small towns like Muskogee, OK and Laurens, people that age are bound to large communities. They haven't made enough mistakes to lose friends yet. When they die, something ethereal in the community dies with them. Sadly, it's the sentencing of the driver, and not the death of the victim, that garnered national attention.
The second tragedy of this story is the judge's misplaced expectation that perfect church attendance in itself is an appropriate means of rehabilitation. My experience is that church attendance is not an accurate indication that one has finally got it together. We go to church because we don't have it together and we need to grow in our trust that God still loves us anyways. If the judge is intent on seeing Alred's life be transformed, he should call him every Sunday morning and offer him a ride.