“That was an experience that I never will and never want to go through again.”
With squad car lights flashing, Seattle Police Officer Eric Michl pulled up to the scene of a car crash March 9, 2013.
A SUV went over a sidewalk, plowed over a small tree and came to rest at the bottom of a park near the University of Washington.
The driver’s face was bloody.
“He had hit his head on the windshield,” recalls Michl. “It was obvious that he’d been drinking, so the fire department and I felt it would be best to take him to the hospital.”
At Harborview, Michl continued a “routine investigation.”
“I applied for a search warrant to get a blood sample drawn,” Seattle’s top DUI cop says. “The blood sample indicated he was under the influence. He was charged with driving under the influence.”
Although Michl’s investigation was routine, the driver with a blood alcohol level of 0.18 – more than twice the state limit – was a star athlete.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins is an NFL-bound football player and the Husky record-holder for career receptions (143), receiving yards (1,801) and touchdown catches (20) for a tight end.
Seferian-Jenkins knows he was drinking at a party with friends before crashing his vehicle, but he doesn’t remember much about the arrest.
“I, I really don’t,” he tells me. “I thought ‘I’m lucky to be alive. Did I hurt anyone?'”
Then reality hit him.
Seferian-Jenkins says he made bad choices, “screwed up” and felt embarrassed about driving while drunk.
“It’s not just the embarrassment you’re facing, it’s the embarrassment you cause your family, your friends, the University, all the guys on the team that connect themselves with you,” he says. “It hurt a lot of people.”
Seferian-Jenkins grew up with his family in the Gig Harbor area, and he says his mom and dad “raised him better than that.” So he decided to take responsibility for the DUI.
He pleaded guilty in Seattle Municipal Court in July and was sentenced to 364 days in jail with 363 of those days suspended.
During the middle of our glorious summer, he spent one dark day in jail on July 31.
“You’re really in a box and you’re really just sitting there. There’s no clock, there’s no time,” he says. “You’re in your thoughts and you’re thinking about why you’re here and what do I have to do to never be here again. It’s really crazy.”
Calling it an “extremely humbling experience,” Seferian-Jenkins talked about the DUI arrest for the first time publicly with a group of Ballard High School students.
The 20-year-old Husky football player told teens who believe they’re “young and invincible” that that kind of thinking is the “opposite of the truth.”
Seferian-Jenkins was reminded, after sitting out a one-game suspension with the Huskies at the start of the season, that he’s a role model for children who watch him play.
“What we do as athletes, if we like it or not, they’re going to be noticed by young kids – little kids wearing our jerseys and all this stuff – and really people all around the country because what do people do on Saturday?” he asks, “They want to go watch college football.”
And what do people all around the country do on Sunday? They want to watch NFL football.
The junior American ethnic studies and communications major says he hasn’t decided whether he’ll return to play for the Huskies next season or enter the NFL draft.
“I haven’t really thought about that,” he says. “The NFL is not the focus today.”
By LINDA THOMAS