The human cost of drinking and driving

CMSgt Thomas Daniels (U.S. Air Force photo)

CMSgt Thomas Daniels (U.S. Air Force photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Do any of you know Thomas Perkosky? It may surprise you, but many of you know or at least have heard of him. In order to tell his story I have to tell you the story of Stephen Perkosky.

On November 26, 1983, Stephen left his job after working the midnight shift at a cannery near Hazelton, Pennsylvania. It was Thanksgiving morning and Stephen was heading home to sleep to ensure he was ready for the big family meal that was scheduled for that afternoon.  While driving on Route 940, a vehicle operated by a 17 year-old crossed the center median and struck Stephen's vehicle head-on. The accident killed Stephen and the 18 year-old passenger in the other vehicle. The driver and passenger in the other vehicle were legally drunk at the time of the accident.

Stephen was 33 at the time of his death and he left behind a daughter, 12, and son, 10, named Thomas Perkosky. The reason many of you know or have heard of him is because you know him by a different name. I am Thomas Perkosky and my name was changed when I was later adopted. My life was forever changed the day that my father was killed by a drunk driver.

We are continuously mentored in the Air Force not to drink and drive, to have a plan, and be a good wingman. Every day there are Airmen that fail to follow these directions and get behind the wheel after drinking. I say Airmen with a big "A" because drunk driving is an issue for every rank. This has been a problem throughout my 24-year career and we will never completely solve this issue for one reason. When you drink alcohol, you interfere with the brain's normal function and make it harder to think clearly leaving yourself prone to make bad decisions.

There are many possible results for the bad decision to drive drunk. One result can be being arrested which will negatively impact your career, checkbook, reputation and credibility.  Another result can be that you kill someone; either someone in another vehicle or a friend or loved one in your own vehicle. The teenager who killed my father did not start his night out planning to kill someone. He drank alcohol, did not have a plan on how to get home, had a wingman that was drinking alcohol, and made the bad decision to drive. The result was the loss of two lives which greatly impacted the lives of their families. Finally, you could get killed, which will have immeasurable impacts on your family, friends, and colleagues -- the people you care about the most.

Here is my challenge to you. If you are going to leave your residence and drink alcohol -- have a plan. That plan should consist of a designated driver (a friend, a taxi, AADD, etc.).  Nowhere in the plan should the designated driver drink alcohol at any period in the night. If your plan falls apart call someone in your chain-of-command because anyone of them would rather take care of you than see a 10 year-old orphaned.