Jack Beal knows firsthand the dangers of driving impaired.
The 71-year-old Bend resident still can’t believe he survived a crash 42 years ago, when a drunken driver in Portland was fleeing police and crashed into Beal’s work truck.
“I could’ve died,” said Beal, who injured his neck in the crash. “The guy hit me at 106 mph. The only thing between me and him was a door.”
Twenty-six years later, Beal’s son, Joe, was struck by a drunken driver on Deschutes Market Road north of Bend. The crash left Beal’s son with two shattered wrists.
After his son’s crash, Beal decided to share his personal experiences. He gave talks for police departments, high schools in Central Oregon and for the Deschutes County DUII Victim Impact Panel, a program required for those convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicants.
“I was really proud to do it,” Beal said. “I was giving something back to the community.”
Beal retired from public speaking about three years ago, but recently had the urge to return. He was moved by an incident last month when a 61-year-old cyclist in Bend was struck and killed by a suspected drunken driver.
He asked his wife, Debbie, if he should start speaking again, and she agreed. He’s since been actively looking for speaking engagements.
“I was talking about it with my wife and she said, ‘You enjoyed doing it, and we know it makes a difference, so start looking into it’,” Beal said.
Beal is returning at a time when drunken driving cases continue to rise in Deschutes County.
According to data from the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office, cases have increased from 1,022 in 2016 to 1,171 in 2019. Cases declined to 745 in 2020, but that may be due to fewer people driving during the COVID-19 pandemic and police departments not emphasizing DUII patrols, District Attorney John Hummel said.
“As policing increases, DUII arrests will increase even if there are not more DUII drivers on the streets,” Hummel said. “The converse is also true.”
The overall increase in DUII cases is partly due to the growing population and tourism in the area, Hummel said.
“It’s important to remember that Deschutes County’s population has increased significantly since 2016, and that tourism has increased significantly since then,” Hummel said.
Each case could have a victim that was injured or killed. That serves as motivation for Beal.
In his talks, Beal discusses his crash and his son’s crash and how they affected their family. But he also discusses his career working as a driver for funeral homes across the state and having to respond to deadly crashes caused by impaired drivers.
He ends each talk with a story about how he had to transport a 4-year-old girl who was killed in a crash with an impaired driver just east of Bend. It’s a story that brings the audience to tears and reminds them of the consequences, Beal said.
“They may not have been paying attention. But then I ask, ‘Who in this room wants to kill a 4-year-old tonight?” Beal said. “I have their attention.”
Over the years, Beal has felt the positive effect of his talks. Strangers have approached him on the street and expressed how much he helped them stay sober.
For Beal, his stories are not just lessons for impaired drivers. They are memories he lives with every day. Powerful memories that cut deep.
He will never forget assessing the scene where his son’s van was smashed from a head-on collision. His son was driving alone that day, but had three child car seats in the back for his children.
Beal noticed the car seats were ripped out and laying on the dashboard. He realized he could have lost his son and grandchildren that day.
“You don’t forget that,” Beal said. “It doesn’t go away.”