Driver's problem isn't alcohol it's arrogance


Marshall Rickert, administrator of the state Motor Vehicle Administration, stretches himself to his full 5-feet-7-inches to make a sad mathematical point.

"Page's record," he admits, "is taller than I am."

He's talking about William Ray Page, the one-time one-man wrecking crew of Maryland's motorways, the man whose bare-bones driving record takes up 12 full MVA computer pages, who is back behind the wheel of a car again with the full blessings of the state of Maryland.

This will come as inconceivable news to more than a few people: the family of the 20-year old girl on a bicycle that Page killed while he was on a drunken binge; the police who have arrested him for six different accidents; the judges who have convicted him 10 times for drunken driving; and those who look at the 125 points for various lifetime violations on the MVA's driving record.

"It is a record," Rickert admits, "that is unprecedented in my experience. However . . ."

Rickert's voice trails off a little here. There are rules about these things, and the rules say Page is now eligible to drive again. Page says he's no longer drinking, and the MVA says that he's passed their background checks, and so a few weeks ago they gave him another in a series of chances to drive without hurting himself or anybody else.

Can we review a few facts, please?

Page, 47 years old, was driving his car along Coastal Highway in Ocean City in the spring of 1981. He was drunk. A witness later said that he was weaving wildly from one side of the highway to another until he wandered into a bike lane. There, a 20-year old Towson State University sophomore named Tracy Ann Kavanaugh was riding her bicycle. She was with a friend, Lee Ann Worthington, who later testified she saw "something white fly over me and land in front of me . . . It was Tracy."

Then Worthington said that she heard something scraping against the road and saw sparks coming from beneath the car that had been weaving.

The car was Page's. The sparks were caused by Tracy Ann Kavanaugh's twisted bike, which Page dragged for eight blocks before he was apprehended.

Ironically, Page had no points against him when he hit Kavanaugh. Back then, he already had a history of drunken-driving accidents, but his record was clear because his license had been suspended two years earlier and points are only kept on drivers' records for two years.

Page got five years in prison for the death of Kavanaugh and another drunken driving accident, and another one-year sentence for violating his probation on a third conviction. He served 44 months behind bars.

The MVA gave him strictly limited driving rights when he came out of prison, saying he could drive to work and back -- but nothing else. When officials heard he was cheating, an astonished Rickert immediately assigned "seven or eight investigators on the case."

They found Page driving routinely to a liquor store -- apparently, just to pick up lottery tickets -- and cruising around Patterson Park late at night. So the MVA revoked his license again.

Has he been punished enough? Page thinks so. Just before they took away his license two years ago, he said, "I paid my debt to society. People keep looking at what I did in the past. But what about the last 18 months? I've had a clean driving record" -- a little instant amnesia on his part -- "and I'm not drinking."

When he went before the MVA a few weeks ago, he said the same thing: He's clean, he's reformed, and the worst of his driving happened a decade ago.

That overlooks the fact that much of the last decade he's either been behind bars or under severe driving restrictions.

But, in any case, the MVA agreed.

"He went by the book and we went by the book," Rickert said. "He went through the normal revocation period. We did all the background checks. He's got a clean bill of health. He's done what we require. We have no reason not to give his license back."

This is where some people raise questions -- not merely about Page, though he's clearly in some kind of class by himself -- but about the nature of driving, and the nature of society finally drawing a line somewhere and saying: This time you've gone too far, and we can't risk letting people like you drive again.

With Page, it's never quite happened that way. The MVA punishes him, he promises to change his behavior, he gets his license back, and he goes back to driving erratically.

He says now that he's stopped drinking, but that's only part of the problem. When they limited his driving to work needs two years ago, he continued driving whenever he felt like it. That's not an alcohol problem, it's an arrogance problem.

The system said: We're appalled by your record, and you've got to prove to us that you've changed before you can get full driving privileges again. Page essentially said: Try and stop me.

"Should we draw a line somewhere with bad drivers and just tell them they can't drive any more?" Rickert asks. "The truth is, if we ever permanently revoked a license, I don't know that a court would sustain us."

So Page is back behind the wheel again. He's promising to behave this time.

The problem is, he's promised before, and it didn't mean a thing.

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