Eclipse Drunk Driving

On Monday, August 21st, when many states will witness an amazing and rare total solar eclipse, Mothers Against Drunk Driving® (MADD) wants to remind everyone to designate a non-drinking driver if their plans to enjoy the occasion include alcohol.

Agencies across the nation have been reminding everyone to be safe and wear protective eyewear while watching the eclipse. But there is also another danger during any big event like this: drunk driving. If you plan ahead, you can help make sure your party doesn’t end in tragedy.

If everyone designates a non-drinking driver every time their plans include alcohol, we could “Eclipse Drunk Driving—on August 21st and beyond. Drunk driving is 100% preventable, and a day of No More Victims® is within our reach. Our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving will achieve just that through law enforcement support, ignition interlocks for all offenders, advanced vehicle technology and public support.

We've included some party tips below to consider for your eclipse celebrations:

  • As guests RSVP, confirm they have a plan for a safe way home via a non-drinking designated driver, like UBER.
  • Do not push drinks!  Drinking at a party is not mandatory for having a good time.
  • Provide plenty of food to keep your guests from drinking alcohol on an empty stomach.
  • Offer non-alcoholic beverages or mocktails for non-drinking designated drivers and others who prefer not to drink alcohol.
  • Never serve alcohol to someone under 21 and never ask anyone under 21 to serve alcohol at parties.
  • If, despite your efforts, some of your guests drink too much, never let them drive home impaired.
  • Have fun—but not too much fun.  To be a good host, you should stay within your limits in order to make sure your guests stay within theirs.

Let's eclipse drunk driving together! Give today to the lifechanging work MADD does to end these preventable tragedies.

Why We Walk: Colleen Thompson

Learn why our victim survivor Colleen and her team, MADD Hatters, Walk Like MADD: Will you join them?
I was hit by a drunk driver on December 10th, 2011.

She was 2.5 times the legal limit for Blood Alcohol Content. As a result of her poor choice, I have constant nerve pain in my back and have even required a few surgeries.

I support MADD because without the guidance of Jason Frazier, my Victim Specialist at the time and now the State Executive Director, I would not have known what was going to happen after my crash or what I would need to do to protect myself throughout my court process. 

Once I began working with MADD, Jason was with me every step of the way. He came to every court appearance with a smile on his face. He even came with me when we asked the prosecutor to ask for a harsher punishment for the offender. In the end, she was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and six months of probation.

I hope that by walking and raising funds for MADD, my actions will help someone make the decision to never drink and drive and hurt another person or family.

Our team name, the MADD Hatters, is special to us because one of our team members loves Alice in Wonderland and we all support MADD! Watch for our MADD hats at this year’s walk! Join us to Walk Like MADD!

Hitting the road to make them safer

The past few weeks have been very busy and filled with variety.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions invited me to join others from around the country in Washington on June 20th and 21st for the first-ever National Summit Crime Reduction and Public Safety Summit.  Both Sessions and Vice President Mike Pence spoke to the group.  It was encouraging that MADD was included, acknowledging that drunk driving is a violent crime that can be prevented.

A flight to Reno, Nevada brought me to the Annual Conference and Exhibition of the National Sheriffs’ Association on June 23rd though the 25th.  More than 1,000 people attended the meeting.  I had the honor of presenting to the Youth and Juvenile Justice Committee.

Then, two days later, I was in Georgia giving a presentation on MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® during a Summit for the Governor’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

The next day, I was literally all over Georgia with Harris Blackwood, Director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and Colonel Mark McDonough, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety. By helicopter, we flew from Augusta to Savannah to Macon to Albany.  Each stop was part of the Kick-Off for Operation Zero Tolerance, a high visibility enforcement program that targets impaired drivers through concentrated patrols and sobriety checkpoints.

 The last month has been a whirlwind, but all worth it if we can move closer to a day when there are NO MORE VICTIMS®.   

Voices of Victims: The Sias Family

By: Kreceda W. Tyler

Summer time family vacations usually bring  wonderful lasting memories.

But for our family the memories of summer vacation and the Fourth of July holiday will never be the same. My family’s trip to Disney World on July 4, 2004 will forever resonate in our hearts and minds crippled by the sadness of losing our loved ones: my mother, Mary S. Whitfield, my daughter, Da’Ja Christophe and my cousin, Christina Cantrell.

My mother and her sister were extremely close and they decided that it would be a good idea to combine a “sisters vacation” with a trip to Disney World as a gift to the children, which included my aunt’s two children and my daughter, Da’Ja. This trip became especially important because my mother’s health had begun to fail and her prognosis was grim.  In fact, the day of the trip, she confided to us, her children and her sister, that she’d only been given two years of life expectancy from her illness. Therefore, the trip to Disney World became much more meaningful to her and to all of us. 

The July 4th weekend was family and fun-filled for everyone. We spent the weekend in Jacksonville, Florida for a small family reunion. From the family reunion, my mother, daughter, aunt and cousins were set to depart on their week-long trip to Orlando. Reflecting back on the moment, I can say that it was a blessing that our family was able to see and bond with each other,  unknowingly sharing our last Earthly goodbye.

On July 4, 2004, my mother, daughter and cousin) travelled together from Jacksonville, Florida  to their vacation destination-My Aunt Irene and her son trailed behind them in a separate vehicle. In Orlando, my mother missed the exit en route to the hotel so she merged over to the left to make a turnaround. My aunt who was attempting to merge over behind her could not because an SUV was traveling too close at a high rate of speed behind my mother’s vehicle.  In an attempt to pass her on the highway, the driver instead crashed into the back of her car as my aunt and cousin watched in horror.

The impact of the collision caused my mother’s car to skid across the median into oncoming traffic where the passenger side of my mother’s car was again struck by another oncoming truck. My mother, Mary, and my daughter, Da’Ja, died instantly at the scene of the crash. My cousin, r, Christina,was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center where she died two hours later. The driver admitted that he had been drinking and was tested for driving while under the influence, for which he tested positive with a Blood Alcohol Concentration above the legal limit. He and his wife were uninjured and his wife had not been drinking at all.

Due to improper sealing of his bloodwork confirming his BAC over the limit, he was only convicted of a DWI misdemeanor and sentenced to probation.

My daughter Da’Ja was a seven-year-old, rising 2nd grade honor student who loved Mickey Mouse and singing. My cousin Christina was a 12-year-old rising 7th grade honor student, who was very artistic and also loved to sing. My mother, Mar,y was 56 years old and a loving mother, grandmother, a favorite aunt to almost all of her nieces and nephews, a dynamic nurse and a devoted woman of God.

What I remember most the night of the crash was being devastated from the news that my mother  was given a prognosis of two years to live and those years were taken away. I have never known a greater pain than losing a parent and a child at the same time during a time that was meant for family and celebration.

Thirteen years later, we are in a constant state of healing. Every time a family reunion occurs or the Fourth of July comes around, we are reminded of the tragedy we endured. My family and I have a strong faith in God and personally, I have come to accept what has happened and even forgiven the driver, but that does not negate the fact that the crash was senseless. The actions of the driver were senseless and thoughtless. His heartlessness to accept due punishment because of his actions and failure to apologize to our families was senseless and thoughtless.

We continue to celebrate our family members. Their strength and love shines through all of us.  They touched all the lives they encountered in a positive way. It is their exemplary lives that gives us the strength and courage to forgive and live life to the fullest. I am committed to continuing their legacy and help bring awareness and prevention to drunk driving.

Since the crash, I’ve written a poem every year for my daughter’s birthday. In February 2015, Da’Ja would have been 18 years old. As a dedication to their memory, Da’Ja’s 18th birthday and high school graduation year, I released a book of poetry entitled, “This Side of Heaven: A Poetic Journey of Strength and Survival” which is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All proceeds for this poetry book are donated to MADD as a way of giving back to ensure that we continue to prevent drunk driving crashes and support the victims of this senseless crime.

The Fourth of July and family vacations will never be the same for us, but while we’re on this side of Heaven, we choose to remember the lives they led instead of the lives we lost.

Voices of Victims: Erin Rollins Part 3

This is the third in a three-part series by drunk driving victim Erin Rollins:

I looked the defendant dead in the eyes and read the closing portion of my victim impact statement. "Your behavior and seeming lack of remorse has been the hardest for me to work through.  But I want you to know that I forgive you even though I don't think you deserve it. Because, then again, Jesus forgave me and I didn't deserve it."

I stepped off of the stand feeling empowered, yet emotionally exhausted at the same time. I slowly made my way back to my seat.

I braced for the defendant to decline to say anything.  Weeks leading up to the final court date, I had prepared myself that even if she didn't acknowledge what she had done, my pain remained valid.

I knew I needed to forgive completely regardless of the outcome.  Through my healing journey, I had believed a lie that told me that I needed her to feel remorse to validate my experience. And believing this challenged my ability to move forward.

Holding onto resentful feelings over the offender’s lack of remorse threatened the joy I had in God’s answer to my specific prayers, and the hope I had in Him to use something terrible for good. Focusing on what the offender wasn’t doing distracted me from being at peace with God and myself, and trusting that my pain had a very important purpose. 

Coincidently only a week prior, the minister of my church gave a sermon on forgiveness. I learned that wholehearted forgiveness means letting go of resentful feelings towards someone, whether they deserve it or not.  It does not mean forgetting what happened, or excusing the defendant’s actions. It meant freeing myself from the bitterness that tried to assimilate control over the defendant, her choices and the situation. It also meant giving myself permission to move on with life, to fully love my husband-to-be, and to extend myself the grace to accept the newfound changes to my body.  By forgiving the offender completely, I also gave myself room to mourn my losses, but not stay there.

I was finally able to let go of the last piece that I had been holding onto for those years. Even if she didn't apologize, I had released her, and myself, from feelings of resentment for her lack of remorse.

Then the impossible happened. The defendant got up and turned to look at me. She began to weep, and with what seemed to be an unpremeditated statement, she said, "I am not going to stand here and make excuses for what I did. All I can say is that I messed up and that I am so sorry, Erin, for you and all those who have come to support you."

Through tears, she continued. "You are right Erin, I can live my life once I serve my sentence, but you will never have your life back, and for that I am so sorry."

The judge told her to go with the officer. Unafraid and feeling compelled, I jumped up, and walked as quickly as possible through the glass door into the courtroom.

"Wait," I exclaimed. "Jeanne, can I hug her?"

The state's attorney replied. "You'll have to ask her."

The defendant turned towards me. I approached her.

"Can I hug you," I asked vulnerably.

"Yes," she replied. We embraced.

The courtroom lost it. My mom and her mom sobbed loudly and When I walked back through the courtroom to the benches, I noticed that my mother had rushed over to her mother and they were embracing. My family and I then hugged every other member of her family.  Everyone who had come with her all said they were sorry. Her lawyer walked up to me, hugged me with tears in his eyes and apologized. Dennis later told me that her lawyer had shaken his hand, and told Dennis that "he had been wrong."

According to my sister and everyone in the audience, there wasn't a dry eye in the courtroom, including the officers and another person waiting for her case to be called. The judge quickly exited the stand after seeing us embrace, and with a crack in his voice, asked for a recess.

In that moment, I was freed in so many ways. Freed because I had said what I had intended to say, and was able to share the story that for two years I had kept pent up inside.

But when I look back now, I have no regrets. Did I call this tragedy on myself because I gave God permission to do what he thought fit, and glorify himself? No. But I did get what I asked for.

Forgiveness is a gift. I not only gave the offender the best gift before prison, I received many in return—the ability to enter marriage freed from the bondage of bitterness, and the freedom to extend myself the grace to accept what was lost and move on with life.

My physical demonstration of forgiveness turned out to be the most healing and powerful moment of my life.  I demonstrated God’s love to a stranger who didn’t deserve forgiveness, because God did that for me. 

MADD’s statement on faith and forgiveness:  MADD is an organization not related to any faith or denomination, we serve everyone regardless of their personal beliefs. 
We do recognize that faith can play a part in someone’s healing journey and wanted Erin to share how it played a part in her own, forgiveness can also very from person to person.  Many people find that forgiveness is something that they embrace or reject, MADD respects each person’s choices about their own healing journey which may or may not include forgiveness.  We thank Erin for sharing her own healing journey. 

Erin's story is also featured in Chicago Now.

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