February 19, 2001
The haunting tale of Horse Thief Bridge
by Jeanette Knutson
Bold and cocky and with a bow and arrow, a sailor once shot an albatross, a seabird long ago considered an omen of good fortune to seafarers.
For tempting the fates, the poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, goes on to say, the mariner endured a hellish voyage where all of his shipmates died except him. As penance for killing the bird, he was forced to tell his tale again and again, "to teach by his own example the lesson of love and reverence for all things God made."
"I pass like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach."
Maybe you've met someone like this, someone who has undergone a harrowing experience and felt compelled to tell everyone the story. Perhaps you knew someone who survived the Harrods' bombing, who nearly died in a freak boating accident, who lived through a nightmarish assault, and who to this day shapes their life by this one defining moment.
Jason Barber, it seems, is one of these people.
He spoke to assemblies at Cedarcrest High School and Tolt Middle School recently about a foolish decision he'd made years ago, the decision to drink and drive.
Barber, plain-spoken, dressed in street clothes and never once smiling, shared his powerful message to quiet and emotional audiences.
It wasn't a statistic-laden speech, but one set of numbers recounted was memorable: There are 25,000 drunk driving deaths in this country every single year, and that number is steadily rising.
"To put that number into perspective ...," Barber's voice strained, "that is the equivalent of a jumbo jet airliner crashing to the ground every three days ... and everyone perishing. Every three days ... that's two a week."
He then implored, "Do you think if airplanes were falling out of the sky at that rate, there'd be public outrage? You're darn right [there would be]."
But because there is no public outrage and because the majority of the victims of these drunk driving incidents are 19, 18, 17 years old, Barber, a drug and alcohol counselor by profession, decided to bring his "tale" to the ones most affected by drunk driving.
You see, Barber killed his own brother in a drunk driving incident. He served three and a half years of his six-year sentence in a California state prison after being convicted of vehicular manslaughter, DUI and gross negligence. And he came to the Valley to say that drunk driving is not an accident, that the senseless deaths are preventable.
"It's not like a cancer, something you can't cure ... it's somebody's decision to drink and drive."
With anguish in his voice, his eyes sometimes shut as he recalled the details, Barber relived the last day he spent with his brother. He has told this story many times in the last three years, to many audiences just like the ones in the Valley.
It was a somber presentation, eloquently delivered. And though Barber is a physically imposing man, he spoke as one with a crushed spirit.
"Some lives incline toward one day, one transforming moment," wrote Jay Brandon in his novel "AfterImage." "The moment the bullet severs the spinal cord. Election Day. The day a daughter is [killed]. The possessors of these lives don't know that one certain day is coming. But forever will remember their lives in two segments: the happy-go-lucky before and the devastated after."
Don't tempt the fates. Don't drink and drive. It's your decision.
The crash killing 15-year-old Aaron Barber occurred Sept. 15, 1991, on Highway 138 in California near Horse Thief Bridge.