Judge Tony Agbayani has quite a right hook when it comes to driving home to high school seniors the serious consequences of drinking and climbing behind the wheel.
Agbayani was a speaker at last week’s Every 15 Minutes DUI Program at Manteca High. It was designed to give the teen crowd all the smarts they need to avoid drinking and driving deaths as well as a 25 year to life sentence for manslaughter in a DUI collision.
He wrestles with giving responsible drivers mercy or dealing strictly with the responsible parties while weighing the losses of families who didn’t have a chance in the crashes – often just blindsided by a drunk driver.
I have known the judge from his early days as an attorney in Manteca and later as a prosecutor and defense attorney. I have nothing but respect for this man who always does what’s right. His passion is making graduating high school students aware that after they attend sober grad parties there could be consequences. There has been many a death scene that I have covered on the highways wishing I could somehow turn back the clock just 10 minutes and detour the carnage.
“Be smart, not stupid,” he continually tells students. His greatest disappointment is seeing the few in the audience who show through their body and facial language that they would rather be someplace else, not realizing they may someday be in his courtroom.
As he went to the lectern last Thursday, he was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and tie. Half way through his presentation, a highway patrolman helped him don a black robe, stunning some students who realized he was actually a Superior Court Judge.
Quoting John Lennon of the Beetles, he noted, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” His point was that bad things happen when a driver is not paying attention with drinking and driving obscuring common sense. Countless decisions are made within seconds, he noted, for good and for bad.
“What that means is life happens. Things happen. Things happen that are beyond your control and you’ve got to deal with them. But there are other things in life that are in your control. That’s what we are here to talk about,” he said in making a decision whether to drink and drive.
“There’s a decision (reference term) I’ve come up with. I call it the 1.8 second decision. That’s a decision you just make – you don’t think about it – you just make it. You don’t care about the consequences – you just make the decision. Whether it’s a well thought-out decision that saved my life and allowed me to be standing here today, or that 1.8 second decision of the other cancer patient to turn his back on the doctor. Whichever decision you make you have to deal with the consequences,” he said.
Agbayani would talk about his personal life-threatening experience to make his 1.8 second decision to have a new and advanced cancer treatment that would save his life and the decision of someone else in the next room in a doctor’s office to refuse a medical treatment with the same procedure. He compared his decision to that of a young driver who makes up his or her mind in the same 1.8 seconds to drink and drive after a party.
“It was back in September that I went into my doctor’s office and just expected to get the results of a routine test. My wife was with me as she always is and I told her just to stay there and I’ll just go in and talk to the doctor. The nurse came in and handed me something on paper and said that I’d better read it before seeing the doctor. I looked at the report and it said I had cancer.
“This kinda stuff doesn’t happen to me. I mean my life has been good. And, I just kept staring at the paper. The doctor came in and started talking to me and giving me options. He said that I might want to look at them and decide what I wanted to do.”
With the impact of the situation putting a cloud over his family, he cried a little that night before going to the Internet and researching the library for cancer information. He announced it at work and friends responded with advice telling him to find the best doctor available. Other people went to him who had been through the same critical situation. They said he should go to the University of California in San Francisco where they eventually got him the best doctor in the world who offered a new protocol with brand new machines.
“It’s going to be painful,” the cancer surgeon told him, “more painful than anything you’ve had before.”
Agbayani was convinced and said, “Let’s do it!”
It was just two weeks ago that the speaker was still in a hospital bed vowing that he would make the Manteca Every 15 minutes. He had missed the other schools’ E-15 events throughout the county because of his cancer. The doctor had told him he was “cancer free” and didn’t have to worry about having radiation or chemotherapy even though they had discovered other tumors and bleeding blood vessels. He said his faith in God played a big part in his recovery.
The judge grew up in Manteca as did his wife. Both attended East Union High School. Together they have nine children who have all attended all the Manteca area high schools including Calla now adding grandchildren to that number.
At mid-point in his presentation he switched to two young men who came to see him in his office just prior to summer vacation. One was asking for an internship in his court as he was planning to become an attorney and eventually a judge. The other was looking for mercy after being jailed on felony DUI charges. Their lives took exact opposite directions with one graduating college with honors and the other receiving 30 years to life in prison for drinking and driving deaths.
“On their grad nights they took two different paths. Their 1.8 second decisions made the difference. One was asked if he wanted to go to a party. There would be lots to drink – he said no. The other was asked if he wanted to go to an orchard party, he said, ‘Yeaah!.’ That was his 1.8 second decision. Later that night, in 1.8 seconds, he took his first glass of Dr. Pepper and at the same time the other took his first glass of liquor that would not be his last.”
At the end of the summer the grad who enjoyed his Dr. Pepper and had gone off to bed drove to college. The second youth who enjoyed the adult drinks was sentenced to state prison. He had earlier received a full-ride scholarship to Fresno State as a third baseman. There was also interest in him by major league teams but they wanted to see how he performed in college.
In a DUI crash he had killed two people when they were broadsided changed it all in seconds.
That teen who took the wrong path will be eligible for parole in 42 years. “You probably don’t know this but at 18 you have been alive for 567 million seconds. You are expected to be in the billions of seconds when you reach your 80s,” he told the students.
“Be smart, not stupid,” he told the church full of seniors.
Once students attend an Every 15-Minute session they are considered to be educated in the law concerning DUI deaths – the reason they can receive 15 year-to -life manslaughter sentences.