This past weekend, some of you might have seen a video called “I killed a man.” on YouTube. Featuring a modulated voice and a blurred face of a man, a confession follows of becoming overly intoxicated and killing a man on an interstate north of Columbus. It is one of the most powerful anti-drunk driving videos of all time… but is it a selfless act to inspire others or just one man reaching for judicial leniency?
Manslaughter in Columbus
Matthew Cordle of Franklin County OH, claims that he drinks too much sometimes. His reasons for this are immaterial; on June 22nd of this year, he drank too much and made the mistake of getting behind the wheel of his car. That trip ended with him driving in the wrong lane on I-670 into oncoming traffic, striking the vehicle of and killing Vincent Canzani of Gahanna.
Where many would be shepherded into the legal system and be quietly arraigned, indicted and convicted for their crimes, Cordle decided to make use of a small Ohio project called Because I said I would. [sic] to release a video confession. He had not been charged with anything at the time, and was told by his lawyers (according to his own video) that if he was willing to lie and have his blood tests thrown out, he could have his entire case thrown out as well.
Due to the confession in the video, Cordle was charged on Monday with a count of aggravated vehicular homicide, a second-degree felony that carries a penalty of two to eight-and-a-half years in prison, and he was arrested Tuesday.
Watch his video confession below:
Heroes & Villains
No one debates that what Cordle did was wrong. Drinking and driving is one of the most dangerous things the average person can do. Inhibiting your judgement, your reaction time, and your ability to focus on what you’re doing and then getting behind the wheel of 2000 pounds of steel is a recipe for disaster, and Cordle deserves every ounce of the book the criminal justice system will throw at him. But the debate now has become “Is Cordle truly repentant or is he taking advantage of the reach of ‘Because I said I would.’s’ resources to try and absolve himself?”
On the one side of the debate, YouTube commenter Nick Epstein states “I feel nothing but anger towards this guy. Did anyone else notice that when his face is revealed he is literally smirking through his entire apology? If anything, this seems like a ploy to get a reduced sentence, and I find it hard to believe that he is being sincere.”
In addition, Vincent Canzani’s daughter has publicly stated that Cordle’s video is misleading, that he’s “making it look like he’s confessing to a crime. …Like he’s a hero or something.” She feels that his decision to release a public video instead of filming it and handing it over to detectives was misguided, at best. “If he wanted to raise awareness, I mean, I would’ve commended him for going down that road, but the video is totally misleading,” she says. “The motives, I believe, are so he’ll get a lighter sentence.”
Conversely, Alex Sheen, founder and facilitator of “Because I said I would.”, states “[a]fter getting to know Matt, I can say with confidence that he truly regrets his decision that night. He describes the guilt he has as “insurmountable.” Knowing that Matthew has a tremendous amount of remorse for his actions, does that still mean he deserves years of incarceration? Absolutely. Drinking and driving is a serious crime; we must treat it as such. I know that it is harsh to say, but Matt’s regret will not bring back Vincent Canzani. We must enforce the law to discourage others from making this tragic mistake. I assure you that Matt agrees with me” [emphasis Sheen’s].
Doing What’s Wrong Leads to Doing What’s Right
I’m not going to tell you that Matthew Cordle is a hero, because he isn’t. He killed a man due to his own recklessness. I will not condone that. But I will tell you that I don’t think he’s a villain. He made a mistake. A deadly mistake, but still; he didn’t leave that night thinking “I will kill someone before this night is over.” And instead of taking his lashings (which he claims were not forthcoming–not sure I believe that, but still), he worked to spread a campaign of awareness. In this age of smartphones, texting and driving has become the –I hate to use this word, but– hip cause to care about. Werner Herzog is making documentaries about it, cell phone and insurance companies are heavily promoting an awareness campaign against the practice.
Cordle and “Because I said I would” added a hashtag at the end of the video with the intent to start a movement of people making a promise: they would tweet their promise to never drink and drive, not even one beer, and they would retweet it with the hashtag #saveyourvictim. I think a lot of the backlash here is that people seem to think that Cordle and Sheen are trying to make Cordle internet-famous for a bad deed that was followed by a good deed in an effort to lighten his sentence. “After all, look at all the people he’s inspired to not drink and drive and never create a victim of their own,” is the thinking there.
I think they mean well, deep down. I obviously don’t know either of these men intimately, but Sheen’s project is pure of heart. I don’t think he would compromise himself and Because I said I would in the interest of internet fame. Is Cordle legitimately remorseful? The fact that he put together a polished video to announce his guilt insinuates that maybe he isn’t, but at the end of the day, does that actually matter? He’s been charged and is part of the criminal justice system of the appropriate jurisdiction, and the prosecution has more than enough to put him away. Even without his confession, prosecutor Ron O’Brien said Cordle’s blood alcohol level was measured at 0.19, which is about 2.5x the legal limit of 0.08.
Learn the Lesson
At the end of the day, 1.75 million (and counting) people have seen Cordle’s video. I don’t know how many of them are 15-20 year olds who saw it and told themselves that they wouldn’t ever pick up a drink and then get behind the wheel. I don’t know how many of them were 21-100 year olds who made the promise to either never take a drink and go for a drive, or who promised never to do it again.
But I can’t believe that encouraging people not to do it is a bad thing.
I hope Cordle gets a just punishment, and I hope families like the Canzani’s become even fewer and farther between.
Save your victim.
To read more about Cordle’s video or to make a donation to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), check out Because I said I would’s website.
For continuing coverage of the case, check out The Columbus Dispatch.