'Ifs,' 'might haves' torment family of crash victim

This Just In...

July 05, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

All he was doing was driving home from work, and had Eric Eidman not stopped for a soda on the way, he might still be alive. Had he been a half-mile behind or a half-mile ahead, had he seen the other vehicle a few seconds sooner -- any incidental change in the course of events might have kept Eidman away from the Isuzu Rodeo that crossed the center line of Frederick Road shortly after 10: 30 on the night of Friday, June 14.

He must have seen the Isuzu at the last second, just as it came over the hill near Dimitri's Restaurant, and Eidman probably swerved to the right to avoid a crash. That might explain why his car was struck on the driver's side. If Eidman had taken a hit to the front, he might have survived the crash; the driver's air bag had inflated, you see, and it might have saved him.

So goes some of the aftershock thinking about what happened to Eidman -- 36 years old, married, father of a 3-year-old boy -- a few minutes after he left work in the kitchen at Tersiguel's restaurant in Ellicott City and began the drive home to Northeast Baltimore. The people who loved this guy think about the seconds and minutes, inches and feet that could have separated him from that fatal instant on Frederick Road.

It's only natural to wonder about those things. Eidman's mother, Marilyn Chaney, can't resist thinking in "ifs" and "might haves." She still can't believe her son is gone. The other night, on her front porch in Baltimore, I asked how Eidman's two younger brothers were dealing with his death. "They're angry," she said.

Only natural that they would be. Police have said the crash was alcohol-related. There were four passengers in the Isuzu, three of them 20 and one 16; they had minor injuries. They have been charged with possession of alcohol under the legal age, according to the Catonsville Times. The driver, another 20-year-old, left the scene; he surrendered to Baltimore County police at the Wilkens Precinct the next day.

There will be more details as the police complete their investigation and the case moves into court, and this column intends to provide them along the way. For now, more about the victim.

A simple man, a hard worker, Eidman had been in the restaurant trade for about half his life, cooking in a number of restaurants. "He liked cooking, liked the kitchen, and chefs trained him," Chaney says.

"Eric never drank," she points out frequently, and after a little while offers what could be a reason. Eidman's father, who died in 1981, was an alcoholic and, the way Chaney tells it, a violent one who ultimately changed his ways. In the last two years of his life, he became a champion of Alcoholics Anonymous. Eidman was the oldest of three boys. "He saw a lot," as his mother puts it. Though he never said as much to his mother, Eidman's abstinence might have been a direct reaction to the pain he saw inflicted by alcohol. "He wanted nothing to do with it," Chaney says.

More than 17,000 men, women and children died in alcohol-related traffic accidents last year across the country. That represented a 4 percent rise over the 1994 total and the first increase in a decade. Drinking is still only part of the problem, accounting for less than half of all deaths on the road.

We drive millions of miles and spend countless hours in cars -- all the time at risk. In Maryland alone, in an average year, more than 90,000 traffic accidents occur, half of them causing injury.

But as staggering as those numbers are, consider these: Of all those accidents in Maryland, only about 600 were fatal. Police in Maryland are making thousands of drunken-driving arrests (23,198 in 1993, the latest figure available). And while nationwide more than 17,000 lives were lost in alcohol-related accidents in 1995, that figure was about 25,000 just a decade earlier.

So we've made progress: tougher laws, tougher law enforcement, persistent anti-drinking messages, safer cars. But much of that is offset by aggressive driving, increased speed (authorized and unauthorized), persistent alcoholism and drug abuse, and billions of dollars in advertising for beer and booze.

At the home of Eidman's mother, we look at photographs -- from weddings and family gatherings, from informal moments. The man in those photographs is gone. What a terrible waste. What needless pain.

On the last night of his life, Eidman had called his wife, Brenda, from Tersiguel's around 10 p.m. He said he was about to leave for home and planned to stop at a convenience store for a soda along the way. The accident occurred between 10: 30 p.m. and 10: 45 p.m. Worried about her husband, Brenda Eidman tried to contact him on his pager. Firefighters and paramedics heard the pager sound as they worked to free Eric Eidman from his mangled car on Frederick Road. They could not save him.

Brenda McBride and Eric Eidman were married eight years ago. Their one child is named William.

"Eric loved that child," says Eidman's stepfather, Al Chaney. "All he wanted to be was a father. Well, he was. For three years, he was."

Pub Date: 7/05/96

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