Horace Cooper

More and more it seems that celebrities and their families or close associates are unwilling to embrace basic notions of personal responsibility. Whether it’s the hangers on around the tragic life of Anna Nicole Smith or the family of train wreck Paris Hilton, more and more it appears that the families and friends of celebrities are nothing more than serial enablers.

The latest instance can be found in the circumstances surrounding 29 year old St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher Josh Hancock’s drunken driving-related death. Before his fans could complete a decent period of mourning, Josh Hancock’s family announced that they would sue over the “facts and circumstances” of Josh Hancock’s death.

You may recall that Josh Hancock made his major league debut in 2002 with the Boston Red Sox, and after several trades in 2006 became a relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. Although he was once fired by the Cincinnati Reds for violating his contract by being nearly 20 pounds overweight, by the time of his death he had established himself as a pivotal relief pitcher who capably aided the Cardinals during their World Series winning 2006 season.

But in less than 6 months after the 2006 World Series was completed, Josh Hancock would be dead. According to news reports shortly after midnight on April 29th of this year, Josh Hancock was killed in a motor vehicle accident when the 2007 Ford Explorer he was driving rear-ended a parked flat bed tow truck.

How did it happen? The police report indicated that Hancock was intoxicated at the time of his fatal accident with a blood-alcohol level nearly double the legal limit in the state of Missouri. Tellingly, they also found 8.55 grams of marijuana along with a glass pipe used for smoking in his rented Ford Explorer. And according to the accident reconstruction team, at the time of the accident, Josh Hancock was speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, talking on his cell phone and somehow failed to see the stopped tow truck with its flashing lights in time to stop.

There’s no question that his death was a tragedy – cutting him down in the prime of his life and career. And while there are many lessons for us to learn about this needless loss of life, apparently for some in his family and the legal team they’ve hired the need for greater personal responsibility is not on the list.

Instead, his family has turned self-responsibility on its head, blaming everyone but Josh and themselves for the cause of this tragedy. And the lawyers are standing by holding their coats. As a result, in this case they’ve filed suit in St. Louis Circuit Court against the bar and restaurant that he last frequented, the tow truck company that he crashed into and the driver of the car whose vehicle was being assisted by the tow truck driver.

Sounding like Captain Renault in the famous movie Casablanca who’s “shocked, shocked to find gambling taking place”, Josh Hancock’s father Dean claimed in a written statement that he had an obligation to represent the family on all issues, "including any legal actions necessary against those who contributed to the untimely and unnecessary death."

Yet a close examination of the filing reveals that neither Josh Hancock nor any family member or close friend is listed as a defendant. Why is this relevant? Because no one close to Josh took advantage of any of the warning signs of alcohol abuse. Not only did he nearly miss a game at the beginning of the season after failing to answer nearly a dozen calls from the St. Louis Cardinals which Josh Hancock blamed on “oversleeping,” but according to the St. Louis Dispatch, the reason that Josh was driving the rental the night he died is because he had wrecked his GMC Denali earlier that week in another likely drunken accident.

Why didn’t the enablers around him take action and why have they now sought to place blame for this tragedy on a host of bystanders – i.e. the restaurant, towing company and the owner of the stalled car. Josh Hancock’s tragic death is only compounded by affixing blame on everyone but Josh and his family.

We may never know exactly why Kathy Hilton prefers to blame the system as unfair “after all the money we spent” on Paris Hilton’s drunk driving case or why Michael Lohan would prefer to urge his ex-wife to seek drug counseling in the wake of their daughter Lindsay Lohan’s recent arrest instead of taking responsibility directly . But it is increasingly clear that too many of the glitterati and their hangers on refuse to be accountable for their actions. And it’s also true that too many members of the legal community gladly aid them.

Isn’t it time we told the glitterati to grow up?


Horace Cooper

Horace Cooper is a legal commentator and a Senior Fellow with the Institute for Liberty.