May 7th marks the 13th birthday of our "baby" (more like triplets some days) Sevy's Grill, but in April I always remember the anniversary of another, less happy occurrence.
It was during one of those epic Dallas rainstorms on the afternoon of April 25, 1997 when Steven Ridge was driving in his truck with 10-year-old Shamanic Johnson and 6-year-old Steven Ridge [Jr.] who had just been picked up from school. He'd been drinking Crown Royal, testimony at the trial later revealed, but that wasn't a surprise to the police and medical personnel who attended him that day. He blew a 1.6 on the breathalizer administered at the accident site, and in the hospital his blood-alcohol level tested at 1.2.
On Samuell Boulevard, just across from the cemetary, his car crossed the center line, sliding an entire football field length in the hard rain and coming full force against the front of a 1 ton crew cab being driven by Ken Demko of Demko Construction. Ken was our general contractor, he and his team had been working furiously for several months to get our restaurant open by the date of May 7th. In a moment of time, that became unimportant as Ken ended up in the hospital with a broken sternum, broken leg, broken knee, broken ankle, face ripped apart by his teeth when they went through his skin - he traveled by wheelchair for the next month and a half.
But Ken considered himself lucky. His truck had been hit with so much force that the motor ended up almost entirely in the cab; conscious but broken he was aware of all the events as they unfolded. The other driver was ejected with enough power to blow him out the window and practically into Ken's truck, but he was able to walk, stand and talk to a neighbor who was passing the accident scene. The two kids, unbuckled and unlucky, were killed from the trauma they sustained.
Steven Ridge was charged with one case of intoxication manslaughter, and got off scott-free. Family members told Ken that he had no remorse in the deaths of these children, his attitude was that they were his - to do with whatever he decided. His wife took him back into their marriage. And the trial failed to convict him.
According to Ken, the breathalizer test administered at the accident site was thrown out as improperly administered. The test in the hospital was thrown out because Mr. Ridge wasn't properly read his rights. The rain storm made it difficult to pin the loss of control of his truck on the fact that he had been drinking. The emergency room doctor who was (allegedly) struck by the (allegedly) drunken Mr. Ridge was never called on to testify, nor were any of the other medical personnel who attended him. There was testimony about the consumption of a quantity of Crown Royal prior to the accident, but that was not sufficient to satisfy the requirements of a guilty verdict.
Now all that may have been not enough to send that man to prison, and in some cases this might be rightly so. But it doesn't change the facts that two kids were dead, and that alcohol and driving were involved. Every year in April I remember the deaths of those children, just as their families do, just as Ken (and his family) does - he keeps a green notebook in his office with the details of what happened. And I hope everyone else who reads this will remember them as well.