Under different circumstances, David James DelSignore's Saturday night doesn't seem so unusual. The 29-year-old Turah resident allegedly had some wine at Finn & Porter, and eventually moseyed over to Al's & Vic's for a nightcap. Who hasn't done that—or some variation of the two-bar hop—a dozen or more times on a weekend in downtown Missoula? Then, just before midnight, DelSignore jumped into his Chevy Silverado and headed home. On the way along Highway 200, he called a friend from his cell phone to presumably help pass the time.
Stop there and, if you're honest, it doesn't sound remarkable. On any given night, countless casual drinkers take a similar risk and somehow, by some amazing grace, pull unharmed into a driveway.
DelSignore, of course, never did. He heard screaming before he ever reached East Missoula, pulled over, and realized that he'd hit four Hellgate teenagers, killing two. Ashley Patenaude, 14, and Taylor Cearley, 15, died instantly. Teal Packard, 14, remains at St. Patrick Hospital. The fourth girl, whose name has not been revealed, was released from the hospital.
Court records show DelSignore's blood alcohol level registered .147, well above the .08 legal limit. He currently faces two counts of vehicular homicide and two counts of negligent vehicular assault. Meanwhile, the Hellgate community and the victims' families are left to face unspeakable grief. And the state, once again, faces the ugly truth of a growing problem.
Just two weeks ago, in advance of the holiday season's typical booze-filled celebrations, this same column touched on the sobering topic of Montana's rampant drunk driving culture. We noted that the state's DUI-related death rate ranks first in the country—for the second year in a row—and how something needs to be done about it. Stronger legislation out of Helena? Better cab service? Later bus routes? More education? Increased DUI checkpoints? We didn't specify. We simply asked that readers take some personal responsibility and left it at that.
It's easy to come off as overly preachy when talking about the consequences of drunk driving, and even easier to dismiss the preaching. The topic gets drilled into our brains from such an early age through public service announcements, teachers and law enforcement, and the message dulls over time. After all, we also learn that a real Montanan can hold his or her alcohol, right?
Perhaps an earth-shattering reminder like Saturday night's accident will help us realize, finally, that stopping at a few bars before heading home isn't even close to acceptable. Even in Montana.