The Kimball Case: Driven To Fairness?

This, I know, won’t please some folks, maybe a lot of folks. I think Bruce Kimball should get his driver’s license back.

This is the Bruce Kimball who, in the summer of 1988, sped down a Brandon road and plowed through a group of college and high school students. He was drunk, and two students died. He was convicted of two counts of driving under the influence manslaughter and three counts of DUI causing serious bodily injury.

The former Olympic diver served nearly five years in jail and completed an intensive drug and alcohol treatment program. He also had his driver’s license revoked for life.

Now he’s married, has a son and works as a diving coach at a suburban Chicago high school. He has petitioned for the reinstatement of his license. An Illinois judge recently said the determination on Kimball’s request should be made by the Illinois secretary of state’s administrative court. In effect, the judge said, it must be proven that he would be a risk today behind the wheel.

Understandably, some who were close to the victims are aghast at the possibility that Kimball might drive again. But there’s a broader issue, one that can’t be decided — or unduly influenced — by those most touched and traumatized by Kimball’s actions 15 years ago. Retribution and justice are not synonyms.

By all accounts, Kimball was a model prisoner who made something of himself when he got out. That, in itself, is rare. And, yes, as a recovering alcoholic, he’s still taking it “one day at a time.”

But if Bruce Kimball is the poster boy for what horrific things can happen when a drunk gets behind the wheel, he’s also poster material for legitimate rehabilitation. Otherwise, he’s being treated as a garden variety ex-con who is likely to prey again. Arguably, he isn’t. To the degree that any price can ever be exacted for having caused a loss of life, Kimball has paid what was asked.

He can never escape what he did — in or out of jail, on or off probation. Just as he can never undo what he did. But now an Illinois judge says that absent actual proof he might be more of a risk than the average motorist, it makes no sense to continue to punish him by withholding driving privileges. Indeed, a driver’s license would reinforce the rehab. He is, demonstrably, not the same out-of-control person he was in 1988.

If Kimball regains his driver’s license, it is no disrespect to his victims. No one is forgetting what Kimball did 15 years ago, and no one is forgetting those whose lives ended prematurely and tragically because of him.

If anything, a restoration of Kimball’s driving privileges would mean that we haven’t forgotten the composite parts that comprise the “criminal justice” system.

Would that he hadn’t been so prescient.

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