This Best of the LPJ for 2022 story was originally published on March 24, 2022.
By Malcolm Butler
It’s been 27 years since I got the phone call that no one ever wants to get.
March 23, 1995.
I was working graveyards in the computing center at Lincoln General Hospital (now Northern Louisiana Medical Center).
Graveyards is a good term for it. I was not built to be awake in the middle of the night (and at times I wasn’t, but that’s a story for another day).
On this particular night, I was awake and reading a Lewis Grizzard book. I don’t remember exactly which one. And trying to stomach some coffee (only time in my life I ever tried to drink coffee) to help me stay vertical.
The office phone rang; keep in mind that this was before cell phones. I figured it was one of the nurses stations calling about a computer issue. Or maybe my good friend Paul, who worked the switch board at the hospital for years.
It was neither of those things. I wish it had been.
On the other end of the line was my mother. Her voice shaking to the point I could barely make out what she was saying. But I obviously knew something was wrong. It took me a couple of times asking her to repeat herself for me to finally understand.
Heck, as I think back, maybe she was talking clearly, and I wasn’t wanting to understand.
The Dallas police had just left her apartment after informing her that my sister, Lucia, had been killed in a one-car wreck. Alcohol was involved.
Lucia was just a week away from turning 27 years old. She would be a week away from turning 54 if she was still alive.
Lucia had moved to Dallas a few months earlier. She was living with my mom as she started a new job. She was beautiful. Full of life. Loved horses and the outdoors. And people loved her.
But she and my brother-in-law Clark had separated, and I wasn’t happy about it. Heck. I wasn’t happy with her.
Clark and I were like brothers. We were both sports fanatics. We played slow pitch softball together. We did a lot of things together.
In fact, I was so mad at the situation that I hardly spoke to Lucia the last three or four months of her life. Man, does life have a way of making you wish you had do-overs sometimes.
Lucia had gone to a bar with a friend that night. There, they met some friends of Lucia’s new friend. Evidently when it came time to leave, Lucia wasn’t ready to go. So she stayed, knowing she would catch a ride home with her newest friends.
Too many drinks. A new sports car. And liquid stupidity cost three people their lives that night. Police said based on the skid marks and the condition and location of the car, the car had to be going over 100 miles per hour when it left the road.
Everyone was killed … except the driver. He walked away from the crash almost unscathed.
I never blamed him. Not completely. Lucia had made a poor decision. All four people in the vehicle made a poor decision. And it cost three of them their lives.
Following the phone call, the next few hours were a blur and still are. I think I was in shock. Had to be. I remember calling my boss to tell him I had to leave and why. I remember driving to my grandparent’s house on Pinewood Lane and waking both of them up to tell them in person. I called my dad.
I remember trying to find Clark. Honestly, I can’t remember if I did that before or after telling my grandparents. Clark lived in Ruston on Sybil Street. He wasn’t at his apartment; turns out the Ruston PD had come over to inform him and he had left to go to a friend’s house.
I called the mom of Lucia’s best friend in Ruston. I didn’t want Lee Anne to hear it off the street, but by that point I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to be the one who told her.
As soon as the sun came up, I rode with my grandparents to Dallas to pick up my mom and bring her back to Ruston. What a long, draining day. It’s a day that I hope no one ever has to experience.
Unfortunately, my story isn’t unique. Sure, it may have some uniqueness to it, but it’s a call that thousands upon thousands of people have received. It’s a day that too many people have experienced.
I don’t write this to get people’s sympathy. Trust me. I came to terms with this a long, long time ago. But I work around college students daily. I see the DWI stories in the Lincoln Parish Journal daily. The young. The old. Heck, those are the lucky people (if they learn from their mistake).
But every year on this anniversary I post photos of Lucia on my Facebook page with a brief synopsis of what happened on March 23, 1995. It’s a way for me to remember her. And more importantly, it’s a way for me to honor her life by trying to prevent someone – anyone – from repeating her mistake.
Twenty-seven years numbs the pain and clouds over some of the details. But it will never completely erase the memories of that call and of the news that changed my family’s life in so many ways.
A mom and dad lost a daughter. A brother lost his only sister. And friends lost a friend.
And all because of a poor, yet permanent, decision.