Michael Cook has trouble walking.
He can’t speak clearly.
His body shakes involuntarily.
But, his words carry an ominous warning for the 200 some high school students who attended the first ever CRASH Court on the Rogers State University campus.
Also in attendance, by court order, were two County Jail inmates who agreed to be an example as part of their sentencing.
Their crime — driving under the influence of an intoxicating liquor.
A crime with which Cook himself is all too familiar.
Former marathon runner Chris Birch, from the Tulsa area, had his own story to tell during the CRASH Court session. But, he couldn’t.
He is not an offender. He is a victim.
Birch’s car was rear-ended, October 2000, by now convicted drunk driver Tommie Farmer.
Birch’s family was told he would never walk again, but amazingly, he walked out of the hospital.
However, a brain stem injury suffered in the wreck prevents him from talking.
Birch was a silent witness at the proceedings.
Farmer, the drunk driver who rear-ended Birch’s car, received a five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to a charge of causing great bodily injury while driving under the influence.
The vehicle Birch was driving at the time of the accident was on display at CRASH Court for students to view.
Associate District judge Joe Smith addressed the crowd of high school students and referenced the two defendants awaiting sentencing, Cook and Birch.
“I’m sure none of you want to be in this position at any time,” Smith said.
CRASH (Courts Raising Awareness of Students in High School) has been created to educate students of the effects drinking and driving; effects that impact the life of not only the offender, but in many cases, the life of innocent victims like Birch.
Judge Smith’s sentences for the two defendants included jail time and stiff fines.
Cook hopes the CRASH Court lesson will be enough.
His brush with death came after two DUIs (driving under the influence charges).
“Before my wreck, I had two DUIs,” Cook said, “and on the third one I was in a coma.
“They (the Court) dropped the charges because they said there’s nothing worse they could do to me that hasn’t already been done,” he said.
Cook was drunk and at the wheel on the evening of Aug. 3, 2003. He was driving his then girlfriend’s vehicle when he crashed it into a tree, severely injuring himself.
He doesn’t drink and drive anymore. Now he talks to students, it’s “the only thing I’ve wanted to do since my wreck.”
Cook said he was a heavy drinker since age 14. He was 20 years old the night he and his girlfriend agreed to attend a party with friends. It was a party they had not planned to attend. But, as the case with so many high school students and young adults, peer pressure won out.
“I remember leaving the party — stumbling and barely able to walk. I heard my ex-girlfriend digging for her keys and when she found them, I snatched them from her and ran for her car.
“I locked the door so she couldn’t get in the driver’s door.”
Some of Cook’s “supposed” friends told his then girlfriend he was OK to drive and that “he did it all the time.”
That statement from the friends was true.
“I did used to drink and drive all the time, but it just takes one time,” he said.
Driving east on a county road outside of Claremore near Heritage Hills Golf Course at 1 a.m. Aug. 3, Cook ran off the right side of the road in a 1995 Nissan Sentra. The highway patrol reported Cook then over-corrected and ran off the left side of the road, hitting a tree with the passenger side of the vehicle. Claremore firefighters extracted Cook after he was pinned in the wreckage for five minutes. He was then immediately taken to a hospital in Tulsa with head, trunk internal and external injuries, where he remained in critical condition.
Cook reminded the students that others could had been in jeopardy the night he drove while under the influence.
Briana Bates, of Chelsea, was pinned in the vehicle for 15 minutes before she was rescued, and was listed in stable condition at a Tulsa hospital.
Neither of the two were wearing a seat belt, according to the report.
“I never thought about the people I could possibly hurt, I just thought, ‘I’ve got to get home’,” Cook said. “As they say, hindsight is 20/20 — I wish I knew then what I know now because I never would’ve thought about driving.”
His words came slowly, but powerfully, “I was less than 400 yards from my house.
“I was so close to my house. I could’ve walked.”
Today, Cook gets around with the aid of a wheelchair.
Contact Krystal J. Carman, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Cook has trouble walking.