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Together We Care
By Jan Withers | October 16, 2013| 156 Comments | Filed in: National President , Underage Drinking , Drunk Driving , Power of Parents

Alisa Joy

My precious daughter, Alisa, was only 15 when she was killed in an underage drinking crash, so I live each day understanding the serious threat of underage drunk driving. The North Andover High School student, Erin Cox, was trying to make sure her friend got home safely, and for that I commend her; and as a bereaved mom, I thank her.

This is a complicated situation involving the health and safety of our youth. Underage drinking prevention is a key part of MADD’s mission because it is so dangerous. Underage drinking is not just a youth problem; it’s an adult issue too. So MADD appreciates all efforts to keep our youth safe, both on and off the road.

At MADD, we know that our hopes for a safer tomorrow are riding on today’s youth. By getting these young people off to a good start, we are taking a giant step toward their future health and safety. That’s why MADD is focused on tackling underage drinking, a problem that threatens our youth and endangers entire communities, now and down the road.

We hope parents will use this opportunity to talk with their kids about the dangers of underage drinking. When involved in such a situation, MADD encourages teens to reach out to an adult for assistance. MADD’s Power of Parents and Power of You(th) programs work with both parents and teens to give them the tools to help them prevent underage drinking.  You can learn more about both of these programs and the resources available at

I am thankful that in this instance, no one was injured as a result of underage drinking. My hope is that the awareness brought about by this situation will encourage parents, teens and communities around the country to start the conversation about alcohol and learn how they can help prevent underage drinking.

Ultimately, it took courage for Erin to come to her friend’s aid, and I know we can all agree on that.


Jan Withers (Alisa's mom)
MADD National President







Submitted by Pat at 04:16 PM on September 4, 2014
I too would be upset if Erin was sober and graciously gave her intoxicated friend a ride home only to be suspended by the school. However, the story below dated 9/3 in the Valley Patriot reveals the true facts of this case and thereby explains the position of the school and MADD. My name is Erin Cox,” her hand written letter to the court states. “I am 17 years old. On September 28, 2013. I was at the party in Boxford, MA. I was there for about an hour before police arrived. While I was there I was in possession of alcohol and consumed alcohol, even though I was underage. There were numerous underage people there as well. I am admitting to this offense and wish to enter into a diversion program
Submitted by Common sense at 07:29 PM on January 17, 2014
The interesting thing is, you are NOT "underage" once you turn 18. These people are adults in the eyes of the law and are jailed for doing something that they should be legally allowed to do. MADD should be using their extreme influence to encourage education and safe drinking. You can't expect to know how to handle something you've never touched until you're 21. Alcohol is a big part of European culture and once people turn 18 (16 in some places) they are ready to use alcohol responsibly. MADD should stop while they're ahead. I'm pretty sure the high drinkng age is also a constitutional issue. I won't be surprised if the Supreme Court hears arguments about it in the next 10 years. The 21 drinking age is blatant age discrimination and it is repugnant of the Constitution. Ms. Withers, I am sorry about your daughter but just imagine how much safer she would have been if teenagers and then young adults were more educated about alcohol. It's also interesting to know that Candy Lightner, the founder and original president of MADD left the organization in 1985 because their mission became anti-alcohol instead of anti drunk driving. Perhaps she was foreshadowing...
Submitted by Jill at 10:29 PM on December 5, 2013
My brother died almost thirty years ago this January 22nd. He was a minor and was driving drunk after adults had purchased alcohol for a party he and his friends (most of them minors)were having. The adults involved NEVER faced the legal consequences, even though it is a crime do purchase alcohol for a minor. We thank God every day that he was alone in the car and he was the only person involved in the accident, but all of this could have been prevented. My heart breaks every day, even now after all this time, and I miss him so much.
Submitted by Layton at 08:42 AM on November 20, 2013
MADD's policies are outdated and superficial. They need to be changed before more people fall victim to binge drinking as a result. Safe drinking should be taught to kids at a young age, so when they are adults they know how to handle themselves responsibly in a social environment.
Submitted by KY Pastor at 09:54 AM on October 24, 2013
Such a hypocritical post, you said one thing for the news and post this, which really does not defend or support your views of what your organization is supposed to stand for, MADD, which I thought was supposed to mean, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, not Mothers Against Designated Drivers.
Submitted by siena at 10:39 AM on October 23, 2013
For someone without background on this story (though I pieced it together somewhat from the comments section) I have to say the blog above by Jan Withers did not make sense. It was more like a post script --without any details. Withers needs to re-write this blog (or add an addendum) that FULLY EXPLAINS both the issues and incident. The blog simply makes no sense to someone without knowledge of the incident. The comments reveal quite a bit, but the blog is incomplete/inadequate as written--again, where is the background on this incident/story? (at the very least, provide a link). thank you.
Submitted by Jimbo at 02:10 PM on October 22, 2013
I lost my 22 year old nephew to a drunk driver who was underage. Your original statement was you believed the school was right to "come down hard" on Erin. Your blog seems a little more understanding. Maybe Maybe not. I wish the kid who killed my nephew (served 1 year) had called Erin or somebody. I am sorry for your loss but you are out of bounds on this one. Curious? Any back lash for your "personnel opinion" being representative of MADD as whole.
Submitted by Kevin Stevens at 04:06 PM on October 21, 2013
This is a classic case of zealous devotion to a cause working to obscure critical thinking and logic. MADD's stance on this is beyond stupid. "Zero Tolerance" policies are inane and lead to ridiculous outcomes such as this. Get a grip, realize you were wrong, apologize and support Ms. Cox.
Submitted by Angela at 03:22 PM on October 21, 2013
I facilitate DWI groups for individuals seeking to reinstate their driver's license in Minnesota following a DUI conviction. My understanding of MADD is that it is first and foremost about being 'against drunk driving'. And while MADD certainly doesn't support consumption of alcohol by teens, the bigger picture is the support of persons either choosing not to drink- and being a designated driver, or the support of persons who do choose to drink- calling for a ride upon the realization that they are too intoxicated to drive. I do not ever recall reading an 'age limit' to MADD's support of these fundamental messages. What I've read in the media (which, admittedly, has the media's own slant) is that MADD does not support the actions of Erin Cox. But alternatively, what I've read above does seem to support Erin's actions. I don't know whether a mixed message was intentionally sent or not... but I do wish that a clearer statement would be provided to the North Andover School District. As a DUI facilitator, my groups include young people under 21. As we go around the group discussing alternatives should the same situation arise again - 'Call a friend' is at the top of the list as to what most drivers - particularly teens - would do differently. It's not that we support teens drinking in the future... not at all. It's that we recognize that we have to help teens plan for every possible scenario - including one where the same situation repeats itself. Not to do so would be inherently naïve. If MADD doesn't support Erin's position- than I would surmise that DUI curricula across our nation should be changed? Surely, one reason there is no 'age limit' to support of an individual being a designated driver is because people recognize that a minor consuming alcohol is far more likely to call a 'friend' than call another 'adult' for a ride. Obviously, the ride with a 'friend' is less likely to result in negative consequences for the intoxicated teen. But from a MADD perspective - this isn't about avoiding those consequences, and it isn't about underage drinking either... it's about getting home safe and ALIVE when people (regardless of age) find themselves in this situation. Therefore, I agree that MADD's support of Erin should be a given. She wasn't drinking. She wasn't even at the party. She was responding to a friend's call for a sober ride home... exactly as I have instructed hundreds of DUI clients to do - REGARDLESS of their age. Erin is a high school student who acted responsibly and, in actual fact, set an example for teens and adults that everyone should follow. (How her school district finds her actions - after school hours and off school grounds - to be any of their business anyway is beyond baffling to me as well.) Penalizing Erin for her responsible behavior is ludicrous. I have five teenagers in my household. I would have EXPECTED each of them to act EXACTLY as Erin did... which is what they have all been taught... and what I will continue to teach. Will someone please stop and think of how this young woman would have felt if she would have done as the North Andover School District recommended? Play out the Worst Case Scenario: Friend calls Erin. Erin refuses to help Friend - refers her instead to an adult. Friend, scared of repercussions, opts instead to 1) drive herself home, 2) accept a ride with someone else too intoxicated to drive, or 3) walks home. Friend is subsequently sexually assaulted, physically injured, or killed. For the rest of her life, Erin thinks 'I could have prevented that.' Instead... now Erin will think twice before coming to anyone else's aid in the same situation. Think carefully about the message you're sending. It literally could kill someone - or save their life. If you polled parents of teenagers killed by a drunk driver... what do you think their overwhelming response would be regarding Erin's actions? How many would have given anything to have Erin either drive their teen home... or have Erin drive home the driver of the car that killed their child? I believe that failing to come to Erin's full support is a mistake, and sends a message that is contrary to what MADD has historically supported. Please stand with, and not against, this brave young woman.
Submitted by HannahKatz at 02:21 PM on October 21, 2013
So MADD supports the school district in punishing Erin for saving the life of her friend? You have lost all credibility. And my financial support.
Submitted by Jeff at 01:57 PM on October 21, 2013
You are so wrong. You should be praising the efforts of a young person who takes responsibility to ensure the safety of a friend. You trash a role model. Kids will always make bad choices, but here you have 1 girl that is smart enough to call and ask for a ride, and another that is responsible to go and help a friend. The school and you are totally off base here. Admit your mistake and support her.
Submitted by cjskyy at 08:07 PM on October 20, 2013
I cannot believe I am actually responding to a story but this one really got to me on many levels. I am so appalled by Jan Withers AND MADD for allowing her to continue demeaning Erin Cox by not just coming forward and admitting their screw up! I am a police officer and have seen my fair share of DUI accidents and made many arrests for DUI. I have always referred to other agencies in respect for their support in stopping DUI's including MADD. That won't happen again until a formal apology comes out from Jan as well as MADD! That girl is to be commended for what she did. As for the officer on scene, I can understand him. I have let people go from a party after investigating and using my professional opinion and experiences to determine if they were sober and/or a part of the problem. I am so angry right now at this entire article, MADD, it's associates as well as that school district! Shame on every one of you! I hope this situation resolves itself. I can't help but wonder what kind of damage this has done to Erin's future for scholarships or funding for her college if she chooses to go. Hopefully, the colleges will see what a fine upstanding student she has been and look past the stupidity of this school district, it's school board members, MADD and Jan Withers.
Submitted by Tom Charters at 07:27 PM on October 20, 2013
Your organization did not support Erin. This makes MADD hypocritical. Your organization has lost all respect from parents like myself. Erin's actions were correct, brave and unselfish. I hope your two faced organization goes down in flames. Tom Charters 810-965-7205
Submitted by meandz3 at 07:21 PM on October 20, 2013
so....on many levels..MADD has achieved a lot of success....applause to bullying is now becoming an epidemic..what is the it because the enmemy is seen to be teenagers as well..if that is the does a movement overcome and establish the correct agenda...the correct movement?
Submitted by Concerned parent at 06:02 PM on October 20, 2013
First of all, I greatly appreciate the work that MADD does to keep our kids and communities safe. Ms. Withers is a bereaved mom who appears to work tirelessly so that other parents will not have to experiecne the pain of losing a child to underage drinking. Erin helped a friend in need. Ms. Withers is helping countlless others. Instead of pointing fingers and attacking, everyone should work together to change the dangerous culture of underage drinking.
Submitted by Cogentforce at 03:08 PM on October 20, 2013
What are you thinking - I came to the full blog and it makes absolutely no sense. Shame on you for not standing behind Erin. Who is influencing and intimidating you - the school system? That could be the only reason you would have done this deed.
Submitted by Jencat at 02:48 PM on October 20, 2013
The position that MADD has taken on the suspension of Erin Cox is laughable. Talk about form over substance. Ms. Withers and MADD has lost all credibility, in my opinion.
Submitted by Rosey at 12:14 PM on October 20, 2013
October 16th, I emailed this to MADD: "If the news stories I've read today are correct, stating that Jan Withers considers that Erin Cox's school was correct to come down on the student, then this is one of the goofiest interpretations I've ever seen from the president of an organization that I've always admired. "Withers... praised Cox's intentions but said she should have called an adult. 'I'm not there and I don't know all of the details, but indeed, their efforts to prevent underage drinking through zero tolerance are admirable.'" Wow. How many teens now will think twice before volunteering to be a responsible designated driver? And if they refuse out of fear for the consequences, how many inebriated teens are going to get out on the road? So, instead of honoring the young lady who stepped up to keep a drunk driver off the road, as society has been advocating, the MADD president hands her a public slap in the face. Way to go, Ms. Withers. Great call." MADD responded with a link to Ms. Withers' CYA statement at the head of this page. If Ms. Withers had simply stated frankly that she had missed the call on this one, made a mistake, it would have restored my respect for MADD. As it is, I'm left with only profound disgust for the organization.
Submitted by public relations gal at 08:52 AM on October 19, 2013
As someone who HAD been a supporter of MADD and works in public relations for policy issues, I think your stance will ultimately hurt your efforts in many ways-ways you'll see and ways you won't. When I was in high school, I often had to come to the rescue of friends. I hate to think of those young men and women that made the mistake of drinking, will now make the mistake of driving because the phone calls they make to their more responsible peers will now go unanswered.
Submitted by Garra Cornish at 06:46 AM on October 19, 2013
The decision for MADD to support Erin Cox's suspension is simply unconscionable. In one paragraph MADD supports Erin's decision to help a friend, and in the next supports her school for disciplining her for doing so. MADD is sending very mixed signals, and is being extremely hypocritical. The suggestion that Erin made an error in judgement by not contacting an adult is ridiculous. When teenagers choose to engage in illegal activities such as drinking underage, it's difficult enough for a teenager who is sober to put herself out there and decided to keep a friend from making a bad situation worse by driving, yet MADD expects the sober teenager to bring an adult into the situation instead of offering help herself? This is essentially saying that teens have two choices - either refuse to help an intoxicated friend, or involve and adult, which will likely lead to negative consequences as well as possible legal consequences. MADD and the school who levied the punishment has now created a situation where teens will be far less likely to become involved in helping an intoxicated person not drive. Good work! I've donated 1000$ to MADD Canada in the past. I wish I could take it back now, and I'll NEVER donate to this organization again, you can be certain of that.

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