JUNCTION, TX—A senseless tragedy has left this small, close-knit community in the hill country of Texas reeling as they struggle to absorb the devastating news that beloved local drunk driver Chris Dehaene, 41, died in a head-on highway collision Tuesday evening.
Dehaene, a fixture in the community whose irrepressible enthusiasm for drinking and driving endeared him to all those who knew him, died doing what he loved best: operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
Two local high school children also perished in the accident, while a third was permanently paralyzed.
“I still can’t believe Chris is gone,” said Libby Paulson, 25, a convenience store clerk who mentioned that she often sold Dehaene liquor before he went driving. “The worst part is there’s no warning. One day he’s alive and drunk, just like any other day. Then he drives off, and the next day he’s dead. Just like that, no sense to it.”
On Wednesday night, the entire town of Junction, which has a population of just over 2,000 people, attended a memorial vigil for the cherished drunk driver at the First Baptist Church.
Grieving community members shared their memories of Dehaene, seeking solace in stories about the highly regarded 41-year-old consuming 10 shots of vodka in one sitting, slamming directly into a tree with his car, and barreling through a school zone with a blood alcohol content of .15.
“Everyone in this town knew Chris,” said Mary Stockington, 47, fondly recalling how the inebriated Dehaene would lose control of his vehicle and plow over her mailbox at least once a year. “In his own way, he touched all of our lives. It’s heartbreaking that someone so young, so full of energy and life was taken so soon.”
“Hard to believe I’ll never see him behind the wheel again, weaving erratically down the street and clipping parked cars,” Stockington added.
Dehaene, who was a favorite among bartenders for his easygoing attitude, prolific appetite for alcohol, and affable unwillingness to ever accept a ride home, was an inspiration to many in the small town.
“The overwhelming feeling I’m left with is anger,” said Junction mayor Joel Sutter, who described the 1996 Chevy Impala Dehaene died in as “a really, really cool car.” “I keep thinking: It’s not fair. It’s not fair that Chris should die while that prick teenager gets to survive, happily rolling around in his little wheelchair.”
“What were those kids even doing on the other side of the road at 3:30 in the goddamn afternoon?” Sutter continued, his voice breaking. “They knew Chris. They knew he would be drunk.”
Hundreds of wreaths of flowers, along with personal messages and photos of Dehaene in the driver’s seat of various cars he totaled through the years, now adorn the roadside memorial that was erected at the point on the highway where Dehaene swerved across the median and slammed into the car of teenagers.
“You will be missed, Chris,” read a note from Francisca Morales, 17, a local high school student who wrote that she felt “empty, just totally empty” after Dehaene’s death. “I still remember the day you almost hit me. I was crossing the street on the way to school. You were so drunk then, Chris. And I still think of you that way, even though I know you’re never coming back.”
Junction residents acknowledged that it would take a great deal of time to heal from the painful and terrible loss.
Members of the community confirmed that the streets have already grown quieter and lonelier with Dehaene’s absence, claiming that there is only a silent void where there were once screeching tires, pealing shouts of joy, and drunken exuberance.