The O. Zone

Alleged drunk driving fatality sadly underscores need to party responsibly in Vail during spring break

By David O. Williams
Real AspenMarch 7, 2011
Judging by the amount of traffic it's receiving and some of the comments his story has elicited on Real Vail, Lewis Edward Cook, III, of Glen Ellen, Calif., was a friend of many and will be missed terribly after being killed by an alleged drunk driver early Sunday morning in Vail.

The 32-year-old Cook was reportedly a graduate of both Princeton and Duke – so clearly a very smart man – and his friends also say he was an incredibly nice guy who touched many lives on both coasts and in Austin, Texas, where he had most recently been living.
David O. Williams

According to Vail Police, Cook was walking along South Frontage Road near Elkhorn Drive around 1:50 a.m. when he was struck and killed by a Grand Cherokee driven by David Matthew Perzanowski, 29, of Vail. Perzanowski was arrested on the scene for DUI and vehicular homicide.

Just like that, in a flash, one young life ended and another changed forever by the legal ramifications and the psychological impact of the worst possible call – the decision to allegedly get behind the wheel of a car after drinking.

Cold comfort, I'm sure, but at the very least Perzanowski stayed on the scene, according to police. He did not knowingly or unknowingly drive on after hitting someone as was the case when a wealthy financial manager struck and badly injured a doctor cycling along the frontage road in Edwards last summer.

Alcohol was not a factor in that case, which garnered national attention when the district attorney declined to press felony charges, but it does underscore how dangerous our mountain roads can be, even in the summer. In the middle of the winter, in the early morning hours, when alcohol allegedly was a factor, our roads can clearly be quite lethal.

I am sickened by the needless tragedy of Cook's death and in no way can excuse Perzanowski's actions if indeed police are correct about the details of the case. My heartfelt sympathies go out to Cook, his family and his many friends.

But I sincerely hope, for the sake of the Vail Valley, that it doesn't turn out that Perzanowski was over-served at a local bar and allowed to drive away, or that he was attending a local musical event meant to further stoke our international reputation as a hard-partying winter sports destination.

Because that is what we sell, with all of the many free and paid concerts and bar specials and après ski deals. Vail sells a good time that sometimes gets way out of hand for both tourists and locals.

And unfortunately, despite one of the best free bus systems in the world, we are geographically spread out along miles of interstate and frontage roads, and those buses don't always go where you want to go, when you want to go, and they stop running when a lot of people are still partying.

Also, while I'm sure it's expensive to do business in the Vail Valley, our local taxi services are prohibitively expensive even for a professional making a decent wage in the valley. If you're a service worker with three jobs just to afford local rents, the taxis here aren't even an option. There should be season passes or discounts to make it more affordable for cash-strapped locals.

All of that said, whatever you have to do – whether you're a visitor or a local – at all costs avoid getting behind the wheel after drinking, whether it's sharing a cab, designating a driver or figuring out public transportation.

It's absolutely not worth it in this valley, or anywhere for that matter, and this terribly tragic case stands as a stark reminder of the fact that while this place is a blast to ski and party in, you've got to figure out how to do so safely.

This is the month of spring break and it's started out on a bitterly sobering note for the entire Vail Valley.

Peace be with you, Lewis Edward Cook. Our collective community best wishes go out to his family and many friends. Please find it in your hearts to forgive David Matthew Perzanowski, if police reports are proven true, and wish him the best of luck in turning his life around.

Additional Information:
You yourself can figure out how you can help an alcoholic loved one and steer him or her away from disaster by reading various resources on the Internet that deal with the subject of alcoholism.

comments: 52 Comments on "Alleged drunk driving fatality sadly underscores need to party responsibly in Vail during spring break"

Vail.Technology – March 07, 2011, at 6:37 p.m.

Thank you for this article. Dave P. is a good friend and we are all heart-broken over this horrible tradgedy. There is nothing but loss in this story and your point is well taken. Wherever you are Lewis, may your soul be blessed. Dave is still with us and his life must be turned around for the better. Our thoughts and the thoughts of Vail are with you both.

kbr526 – March 08, 2011, at 7:21 a.m.

Lewis, or Ned as some of us and his family called him, was my god brother. We've grown up together our whole lives, and he's the closest thing to a brother I've ever known. Needless to say, we are all shattered. I can not express the bright light that Ned was, and how heartbroken we are to loose him and the opportunity to see everything he was going to be. I've always looked forward to seeing who he would marry (and he was about to propose to his current girlfriend), and what he would be like as a father. We will never see those things now. We feel robbed, and so very very hurt. Forgiveness is hard to come by. I feel pain, and anger. That being said, my heart also breaks for David, and for what his life will now become. I know he did not mean to take our Ned away. I also appreciate that he stayed, called 911, and did not flee the scene. I am glad that Ned was not alone in his final moments, and I imagine that the last thing he heard was probably David apologizing. It is very hard for me to say that I forgive him yet, but I am certainly praying for him, his friends, and his family. And, as far as Ned's family is concerned, I can not speak for any of them, nor can I possibly represent how utterly devastated they all are right now- especially his mother- but they are the kindest people I have ever known, and if anyone could forgive this, I would bet that, one day, they will. Our hearts will never mend, we will carry this scar forever. I appreciate everything that you have written in this article. May I also say that, it was because Ned wouldn't get behind the wheel of a car that night, that he was walking. What a bitter, bitter irony. May God be with Ned, David, and us all.

pahollingshead – March 08, 2011, at 9:05 a.m.

I did not know Lewis, but after reading some of the comments by friend here and after other articles, I am sorry I didn't know him. The loss of this man's life is profound. My heart breaks for his friends and his family.

Mr. Williams, you do paint a picture of the many losses in this story and prioritize them appropriately. I also feel compassion for David Perzanowski as his life will never be the same. But, I do disagree with your hope that Mr. Perzanowski was not overserved alcohol at a Vail establishment. Yes, there could be some serious consequences not only with the one or two bars that served him, but with the fallout such bad publicity brings the local economy and business community.

It seems you're saying, 'Yes, Perzanowski was (allegedly) drunk, he (allegedly)struck and killed an innocent pedestrian, but I sure hope he was drinking at a friend's house and not a licensed establishment, because that would be really bad for Vail's image and tourist industry.' No, Mr. Williams, that does not address the problem of alcohol related problems facing the Vail community. While this is tragedy far, far beyond the usual proportions, it's not a unique tale of drinking and ensuing problems with intoxication. This incident could and should be the catalyst for change and might spare other tragedies in the future. Stricter laws and better compliance and enforcement would result in fewer alcohol related incidents, and could be a positive outcome to a terrible tragedy. Simply wishing David Perzanowski wasn't served alcohol at a bar only dodges the current bullet and allows the partying and dangers to continue. A life is an enormous price to pay for a boost to the local economy.

Friends of Lewis – March 08, 2011, at 3:26 p.m.

Lewis Edward Cook III died tragically after being struck by a drunk driver as he walked to his hotel Sunday in Vail, Colorado. He was 32 years old. Lewis was born January 4, 1979 in San Francisco, California, where he attended University High School. During high school, Lewis distinguished himself as a four-time All-American swimmer.

Lewis graduated from Princeton University with honors in Economics in 2001. He played on the Princeton varsity water polo team during his time there. Upon graduation from Princeton, Lewis worked for the John Lewis Company in Austin, Texas for three years, establishing himself in the Austin real estate community. Thereafter, he continued his academic pursuits at Duke University Business School, where he earned his MBA and was recognized as a Duke Scholar in 2007. Lewis then returned to Texas, and the Austin community he had come to love. He worked at Simmons Vedder in acquisitions before starting his own real estate investment company last year. He was presently directing a project in his family oil and gas interests. Lewis was active in the Real Estate Council of Austin, Urban Land Institute, and Young Men’s Business League.

Lewis traveled the world extensively with his classmates and his family. His innate curiosity and quest to always know, allowed him to make new friends through his genuine interest in knowing their story. He treated everybody the same…with genuine interest, respect and compassion. He rarely met a stranger. He recently returned from a mountainous trek through Australia with his uncle Steve, with whom he shared numerous adventures. In his spare time he tutored socially disadvantaged youth. He had a big heart and was generous with his time, valued his friends, loved his family. He was a rock for all of them. He was a swimmer and avid skier who had a love for the outdoors. Lewis enjoyed his all too brief life to the fullest, and stepped into leadership responsibilities quickly. When his father developed cancer last year, he commuted between Austin and San Francisco every month to assist his father in the family business. In short, Lewis was the type of person that we all aspire to be.

Lewis is survived by his parents, Lewis and Susan Cook of Glen Ellen, Ca., and his sister, Alison Cook of Sebastopol, Ca., his uncles, Steve Yoss of Davis, Ca., Jim and Jayne Yoss of Fairfax, Ca., and Ron Honda of Honolulu, Hi., and his cousins Tami Choi, Yoshi Honda, Ann and Caroline Yoss. He is also survived by his grandmother, Kathe Yoss of Rochester, Mn. Lewis will be missed by his girlfriend, Amanda Osterhout of Houston, TX.

David O. – March 08, 2011, at 3:52 p.m.

Thanks for posting this well-written obituary, Friends of Lewis. And Pahollingshead, I think I just chose my words poorly. I was not hoping for an outcome that would absolve some Vail Valley bar or event of responsibility for over-serving alcohol and allowing someone to drive away from their premises. On the contrary, if that's the case, then that establishment or event should be punished accordingly, regardless of the economic impacts to the Vail Valley.

In fact, I'm advocating for much more stringent enforcement and greater responsibility all around. Events should have to subsidize transportation and taxi services before being granted a liquor license so that these forms of transportation are a much more viable and affordable option. As it stands, valley businesses profit from partying but don't always want to bear the costs of getting people home safely. Public transportation shuts down too early and taxis in this valley are way too expensive. Both of which are very poor excuses for drinking and driving -- especially when the result is an avoidable tragedy like this one. And use of the term "alleged" is necessary until someone has been convicted of a crime.

michigan friend – March 09, 2011, at 11:13 a.m.

Every aspect of this story is a tragedy. My heart goes out to Lewis Cook's family and friends. It sounds like he was the kind of man we all want our kids to be and it is a terrible shame he had to go this soon. Dave is a good friend and I know he made a bad decision to get behind the wheel Saturday night that ended in the worst possible way. I just hope that the Cook family is able to forgive him for his actions one day. Lewis Cook may you rest in peace and join your friends and family who have gone before you. My thought are with both the Cook and Perzanowski families.

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