Every six months or so one of Seattle’s daily papers runs a story about some drug addict who, through drug treatment, managed to turn his or her life around. The stories are usually self-consciously gritty and predictably uplifting. “See?â€ť they say. “Drug treatment really works! With a little help anyone can get his life back on track!â€ť
Meet Warren Taylor Yeakey. Until Thursday night, Yeakey was a perfect candidate for one of those gritty turned-his-life-around profiles in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Until six years ago, Yeakey was in almost constant trouble with the law. He had a history of drug abuse, and busts for meth possession in 1994 and 2000. He served four months in prison after his 2000 arrest. He then completed a drug rehab program, got his GED, and got married. He also managed to get a good-paying job in construction.
Another drug-rehab success story, right? Yeah—until the crane Yeakey was operating collapsed in Bellevue on Thursday night, killing one man and causing millions of dollars worth of damage to three buildings. Yeakey was in the control booth at the top of the crane at the time of the collapse. It’s a miracle he survived the fall.
In the wake of the crane collapse, the PI has abandoned its addiction to the drug-addict-turns-life-around narrative. Instead of being given credit for going straight, instead of being seen as one of the victims of last Thursday’s accident, instead of being given any benefit of any doubt whatsoever, Yeakey is being crucified by the Post-Intelligencer and some of our dimmer local TV news personalities. Here’s the headline from the story in Saturday’s PI:
Operator in crane wreck has history of drug abuse
Well, yeah Yeakey does. I can think of a few PI reporters I’ve known over the years who enjoyed abusing drugs now and then too.
It seems that the PI would like us to be outraged about someone like Yeakey—a former drug abuser!—was allowed to work in construction or operate a crane. We’re not supposed to remember all those laudatory stories we’ve seen in the PI about convicted drug abusers and ex-cons who turned their lives around—some of whom, it seems likely, wound up working in construction. Here’s a few examples of the PI’s previous stories—pieces that ooze compassion—on drug abusers like Yeakey:
From Street Pimp to Dean’s List
By rights, White, 52, should be dead. Two years ago, after an arrest for drug possession, he swallowed the rock cocaine in his pockets, trying to hide it from Seattle police… On Saturday, he will graduate with honors from Seattle Central Community College with a degree in human services.
Tiny school is a lifeline in climb out of drug use
When 16-year-old Nicole entered Summit School this fall, she’d met all the prerequisites—and then some. She had abused pot, pills and booze for two years before moving on to meth’s toxic high. It made her mean and violent enough to beat up her sister and break two windows at home…. Only then was Nicole ready for Summit School, a public school where the resolve to stay clean is the most important prerequisite of all.
Once high on drugs, homeless learn to scale new heights—of achievement
Scott Galloway used to get high on cocaine and meth. In July, he will get high on Mount Baker, as part of an expedition of homeless men who will attempt to scale the 10,700-foot peak.
Here’s another. And another.
No one knows yet if the crane Yeakey was operating collapsed due to operator error or from some other cause—like, oh, the extremely high winds we’ve been experiencing around here for the last three weeks, or the crane’s construction. (It was bolted to I-beams, not to the ground.) Even if operator error played a role, drugs will only be relevant if Yeakey was, you know, high at the time of the accident. It’s possible that Yeakey was stone-cold sober and made some sort of human error—even ex-drug abusers are human, after all—but we don’t even know that yet.
And if Yeakey did have drugs in his system? Even then it’s possible that it’s not his fault—sometimes accidents just, you know, happen. They happen to stoned people, they happen to sober people. And what if Yeakey did have drugs in his system but the crane collapsed because of some fault in its construction or because of the wind? Is the wind his fault then? Because he was high? Or had been high two days ago? And if it turns out that Yeakey was sober and none of this was his fault, will the PI feature him in a blowjob story about how he turned his life around?
Reading the story on Saturday, I couldn’t help but conclude that it was a big hysterical and a whole lot hypocritical for the PI to splash Yeakey’s history of drug abuse all over its front pages.
And let me be clear: The piece isn’t hypocritical because there are people working at the PI who have used drugs, but because the PI has printed numerous stories about drug addicts who turned their lives around and became contributing members of the community. The PI was for drug addicts turning their lives around—the subjects of all the stories I cited above come are heaped with praise—before they were against them.
But, hey, that was then.
What the PI is saying now to and about Yeakey is this: It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been clean, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been sober. If you have a history of drug use—or a history of drug-abuse convictions—we will turn on your ass the moment you’re involved in an accident. We won’t wait to find out if your drug use is relevant, we won’t wait to find out if the accident was even you’re fault. You’re toast.
When I was done reading the piece, I couldn’t help but wonder if the reporters—Andrea James and John Iwasaki—had ever abused drugs themselves. And I wondered just what the editors at the PI were smoking when they signed off on it. And I wondered how long it would before the PI ran another story about a drug addict who turned his life around.