TWO WOMEN SIT at a kitchen table, reliving the horror. In their minds, they can hear the sound of his laughter.
It is a mocking sound, a pitiless sound.
It is the laughter of someone with no remorse. The hollow sound of a man who will keep doing what he wants, no matter how many people he hurts, no matter how many laws he breaks.
The laws are weak. The system can be beaten.
John Radlbeck knows that. He is living proof.
An interesting word, living. The opposite of dying. Which is what Carol Ann Rzeznik did that day, 12 years ago, still wearing her wedding gown.
That is when the women at the kitchen table first heard the mocking laughter in their heads.
They heard it when Radlbeck walked out of jail a free man after serving all of four months. He killed Rzeznik on her wedding day. Her name had been Rzeznik for all of seven hours when a blotto Radlbeck -- who'd been drinking for hours -- swerved his car around three others waiting at a red light. He roared into the intersection of Broadway and Transit Road, smashing broadside into the car carrying the newlyweds.
The women at the kitchen table remember. One of them is Lois Esthimer, the mother of the bride. She lives here, in the modest brick house. The other is Joyce Moros, the bride's aunt.
Radlbeck never actually laughed in court, they say. He didn't have to. The feeling they got was he felt inconvenienced. He made a big show of limping about on a leg gone bad from a childhood disease. Feel sorry for me, he seemed to be saying. I'm the victim.
The real victim is in her grave.
The women at the kitchen table would not be so bitter if Radlbeck had been changed by that day. If he never again got loaded and climbed behind the wheel.
He did not change.
Five years ago, a drunken Radlbeck was arrested for driving on the wrong side of the road. He served two years on a felony DWI conviction.
Wednesday, history repeated. Again. Radlbeck was found guilty of driving while impaired last year. The arresting officer said Radlbeck -- who admitted he'd had four drinks -- reeked of alcohol and couldn't count backward. Radlbeck probably beat a felony DWI charge by refusing to take a Breathalyzer test, which would have showed how loaded he was. It would have put him in jail for more than a year.
Instead, he'll get no more than 30 days.
"He's laughing at the legal system," said Lois Esthimer.
It has been 12 years since Carol Ann Rzeznik died. More than 4,000 days. On not one of those days did Radlbeck sit down and write a note to Lois Esthimer saying he was sorry. Or pick up a phone and call.
Lois Esthimer spent years in quiet rooms, talking out her pain to counselor after counselor. Her husband kept it deep in his gut, a black, aching thing. He shut himself off, refused to talk about that day, took the pictures of his only daughter off the walls.
"One of (Radlbeck's) probation officers," says Lois Esthimer, "once told me there was no remorse, no getting through to him."
There's a huge problem here.
A man this sick, this remorseless, is a loaded gun. The law treats him like a chronic jaywalker.
Time and again, the state has given him a license to kill, by handing him back his license. Vehicular homicide? No problem. Driving drunk? Fahgedabowdit. Wait a while, fill out the form, buy a stamp. Get back behind the wheel, no questions asked.
How many people have to die, how many courtrooms does Radlbeck have to see, before he loses the right to drive? Three strikes, and he's still not out. Give me a break.
Not that most drunks won't drive without a license. But at least you might nail them on a traffic stop. It's not much, but something.
It gets worse. You've got to log three -- count them, three -- felony DWI convictions in 10 years before you get hit with more than 1 1/3 to four years in jail. It's like a raffle. Everybody gets a full book of chances. Keep playing until you kill somebody. Then, after a few years, you play again.
Alcoholism is a lousy disease. It hurts other people more than it hurts the carrier. It takes to the road and leaves twisted metal and shattered lives. Time after time, it's the drunk who walks away.
There are some people who, unless you lock them up, keep tolling the bell. Counseling, victims' panels, AA meetings -- the Radlbecks of the world are immune to it. Take away their license? They drive without one. Rig their car ignition, so it won't start unless they blow a sober breath in the tube? They get somebody else to blow.
There is always a way around. Always a way to beat the system. A way to laugh in the face of laws that are too weak. A way to spit on the grave of your victim.
John Radlbeck just did it. Again.
Two women sat at a kitchen table Thursday. In their minds, they could hear Radlbeck's laughter, mocking their grief.
"I'm not crying," said Lois Esthimer, wiping a tear and turning her head. "I just have allergies."
Joyce Moros, the bride's aunt, was not so proud.
"I'm crying," she said, eyes welling up. "I'm crying."