Last week was a whirlwind of activities. I was honored to meet with Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation and David Strickland, Administrator of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Not only do they clearly care about the pain that drunk driving causes so many people in this country, they also are inspiring leaders seeking science-driven approaches to eliminate drunk driving. Indeed, they support MADD's Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving and when we celebrate the 5th anniversary of our Campaign on Nov. 16th, Secretary LaHood and Administrator Strickland will be present.
Our public policy team and I also met with the Honorable Debbie Hersman, Director of the National Transportation Safety Board and the Honorable Mark Rosekind, NTSB Board Member. For those who don't know, NTSB investigates major crashes, such as airline and rail crashes. They also make safety recommendations based on proven research and are committed to working with MADD to make endorsements of science-driven methods that reduce the dangers of impaired driving on our roads.
The moments that are always the most significant to me are ones in which I am privileged to connect with others who don't necessarily have prominent positions and are courageously working to make a difference. Many of you are following our Carl McDonald in his blog, "In Search of Warmer Summers," as he cycles across the country with his sister, Sallie. Each day they dedicate their ride to a person who has been killed or injured by drunk driving. Yesterday, they reached their finish line in Astoria, Oregon. They rode 4,769 miles. Amazing!
Carl touches my soul daily as I open a new entry in his adventure. Carl's precious little daughter, Carlie, was killed while traveling in the vehicle with an intoxicated driver. Even now as I write this my heart is filled with tears of empathy for him, knowing he now endures a lifetime without her. Too many of us live this same nightmare. We connect with Carl in a very real way. I am also filled with admiration and inspiration as he turns his energy into making a difference so others might survive.
He says he is going to continue blogging. He has committed to raising $20,000 for MADD as he raises awareness of drunk driving dangers during their excursion. He has not reached that goal, so if you find it in your heart to give, please do so. Your gift will help save lives. I can't think of anything more important. Just visit http://www.madd.org/ and you will see a link to Carl's blog. You may donate there.
Ron Claiborne, a reporter with ABC World News and anchor of the weekend edition of Good Morning America, met up with Carl and is doing a news segment about Carl's journey and his message. (We will make every effort to get the date and time it will air to you when we find out. Keep watching for it.) Ron then spoke with me to learn more about this topic of child endangerment. MADD considers driving impaired with a child passenger to be a form of child abuse.
Before that interview, I called my Iowa friend, Julie VanderWel, to ask if I could share her story with Ron. Her precious Gavin was killed when he was just ten years old while riding in the car with an adult, who Julie said had a blood alcohol concentation at twice the legal limit. He drove the wrong way down the road, hitting an oncoming car. He had two prior DUI's. Gavin's story is why MADD is working so hard to have every state in the nation require ignition interlocks for all convicted offenders. You are looking at little Gavin Wrather's picture above.
I first met Julie at our 30th Anniversary National Conference in Washington, DC last summer. She was alone and said she felt lost. Her heartbreak was palpable. We became instant friends and inseparable those few days and knew our friendship was permanent. Watching everyone in our MADD family embrace her with love and hold her up was so fulfilling. Nothing compares with the love, the mutual support, and the hope it offers. Julie told me that what she received at that conference gave her the hope to go on.
Gavin died two years ago on July 26th. When Julie answered the phone, I asked the usual, "How are you?" I could hear the struggle in her voice as she replied, "Anxious. The second anniversary of Gavin's death is approaching and I dread it. I am having a rough time. Sometimes I wonder if the anticipation is worse than the actual day."
I did tell Ron Claiborne about Gavin in the interview. Carl and Carlie, Julie and Gavin are why we make a loud noise. Did you know that 2 out of 3 children killed by a drunk driver are in the same vehicle with that driver? We cry out demanding that our society steps up to protect our children from this violent crime.
Julie is so right about the anticipation. Weeks leading up to that horrible day can be agonizing. My experience has been to make a plan for that day. Many of us who first tried to avoid thinking about it often say that we suffer less when we acknowledge it by doing something special. I have friends with whom we go to the cemetery each year, send up balloons, share fun stories about their loved one and if the occasion happens to be their birthday, we eat birthday cake. My point is, whatever works for you, just do it.
Our strength comes from our pain. Our strength becomes even more powerful when we speak with one voice - when our nation hears our united call to protect our families. Carl McDoanld, in his unassuming quiet manner, is helping to make our nation take notice. Julie, too, is now making a difference. Along with MADD, she has begun a campaign in Iowa, by erecting billboards with Gavin's picture and message: "THINK before you drink and drive. One Less Smile.....Gavin 1999-2009." Julie, in her unassuming quiet manner is helping to make our nation take notice. Carl and Julie are amazing, as are so many of you speaking in this united voice. Let us never stop until drunk driving is eliminated.