By Shelly Booher, a Charleston area Volunteer Victim Advocate, Chapter Co-Leader and Walk Like MADD Charleston Chair person
I was one of those people who always said “it will never happen to me.” I was wrong. On May 25, 1996 IT did happen to me. I was married, I had three daughters. My youngest, Marisa, was only 16 months old when someone made a decision to drink and drive with her in the car. That someone was her own father.
At times, I remember the night as if it happened yesterday. I remember waiting for him to come home, making the call to his mom and hearing her tell me she had put Marisa in the car seat that night. She had no choice, when he drank he was physically and verbally abusive. I understood that and was not angry with her.
I remember calling my friend Becky who was an emergency dispatcher for the police. She told me yes, a wreck had occurred and only mere miles from our home. I didn’t have a car, he had our only car that night. I had to go to the neighbors and beat on the door for her to take me down the road. As I clutched the baby blanket I had grabbed from Marisa’s crib I kept praying and saying “please God, let my baby be alive.” At that point it didn’t matter to me if she was injured, I just wanted her alive.
As the car came upon the tracks that were on a hill I jumped out before she came to a complete stop and started running, barefoot and in a t-shirt and shorts. When I came to the top of the tracks and that hill I looked over to my right and saw a spotlight shining on the ditch. In Ohio our ditches are deep and most filled with water. They are so deep a car can go in them in the winter and not be seen. This time I was looking at my Jeep upside down in ditch of water. I couldn’t bear the thought of thinking my daughter had drowned, or worse, died in that Jeep.
I forged on through the crowd of people and screamed, “this is my daughter!” I then heard the most precious sound a mother can hear, Marisa crying. The sound was coming from the ambulance. I ran to her and saw that her head was swollen, she had a cut below her chin, and she was clad in only a diaper—they had cut her pajamas off.
The EMT asked me if I wanted to stay at the scene or go with Marisa. I told her, “You can’t be serious. I mean, I am going with Marisa, why?” She then proceeded to tell me that Marisa’s father was trapped. They needed to cut him out with the Jaws of Life. I didn’t care, I was going with my daughter.
We rode to the hospital and I checked her in. It just so happened it was the same hospital she was born in, where she fought for her life for 41 days in the NICU. I had placenta previa and she was born at only 29 weeks—she has always been one tough cookie! So everyone knew her and came down from the NICU to see what was going on.
Her CT showed a compound (inside) fracture of the back of her skull. How could someone do this to a little baby? How could that someone be the baby’s father?
Marisa would eventually heal, but my mind didn’t. I went to court several months later to hear him being tried for the crash. I never realized he had so many prior DUI offense, this would be his 5th. The highway patrol officer assured me that child endangerment charges would be brought against him, but he never was, which was disappointing.
That crash ended our marriage and a spiral of emotions to follow. One decision, one crash, changed our lives and my direction in life. I lost my car, my home, my dignity and my pride, but I didn’t lose my daughter and for that I was grateful.
A few years after the crash I became involved in the Ohio chapter of MADD. I helped with a group of other families affected by drunk drivers to change the laws in Ohio, to make them stronger. Today I am heavily involved in MADD in SC since meeting volunteer victim advocate Kelly Dehay in 2010. I hope to do the same that I did in Ohio for the state of SC. There are too many people making bad decisions to drink and drive and the fatalities continue to rise. My children are on these roads not to mention my survivor, Marisa.
This January, I am sending Marissa to Clemson University to pursue her dream to become a veterinarian. I realize many families do not have that blessing. Marisa’s sense of humor and big brown eyes have filled my life for 18 years now. I look back to that crash and am thankful to God for saving my miracle—not once, but twice. He gave me a gift I can never repay him for except by fighting for tougher laws for the state of SC to give peace and justice to families who are affected by drunk driving. Marisa, well she will give peace and comfort to all the injured animals out there and to the families who love them. Not only did God save my daughter, he created an angel for all his living creatures when he gave her to me. That’s a true gift for her.
Join me as we work to save lives and save families!