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Why We Walk: The McConnell Men (Guest Blog)


Nathan, Roy II, Kelly, Roy III

On August 1, 2010, an underage drunk driver killed Elroy (Roy) McConnell II and his three sons – Roy III, Nathan, and Kelly. Their deaths left behind three widows, two fatherless children, a grandmother without grandchildren, a young woman without her boyfriend, and other grieving family and friends. The drunk driver was sentenced to 44 years in prison. Through MADD, we hope thousands of lives will be changed by our story.

Amy Voelker: Roy and I were happily married for 20 years, raising his sons Roy and Nathan and our son Kelly. What began as a fun family weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida ended in tragedy beyond anything I could have ever imagined. MADD first supported me by attending the memorial service and sharing information on drunk driving and grieving. Since our crash was away from home in Orlando, I worked with Carole Dirksmeyer, a MADD Victim Advocate for the area where the crash occurred, and she quickly became my lifeline at every court hearing, literally holding my hand and explaining what was happening over the two-year court process. Now I volunteer for MADD as a speaker and participate in Walk Like MADD. Creating a team each year for the Central Florida Walk Like MADD lets me honor my guys by sharing their story, as well as raising money so MADD can reach out to other victims and provide the invaluable assistance they once provided to me. Team “McConnell Men” walked in Central Florida in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. I plan to walk every year until the need for walking is no more. My mom Patricia travels from South Carolina, and my cousin Ginger comes from St. Petersburg, FL to walk with our team.

Patricia Voelker: I’m Amy's mom and Kelly's grandma. My first MADD contact was Traci Thompson, South Carolina’s Victim Services Coordinator. In 2011, I walked on my daughter's team, “Team McConnell Men.” It was a mixed-feelings event. I had not begun the difficult therapy that brought me through the memory of my daughter’s words, “They’re all dead.”  I walked to be with Amy but didn’t yet see what the other walkers and I had in common – all we are one all-encompassing team.    In 2012, I walked in the Central Florida Walk Like MADD with Amy and at the Indian Rocks Beach Walk Like MADD with my niece, Ginger. Inspired by what I saw, later that year at the Annual MADD Vigil in Columbia, South Carolina, I promised that SC would have a Walk Like MADD in 2013 (not even knowing how to bring that about!). A MADD mother from Charleston and I co-chaired that first Walk Like MADD in SC. Amy drove from Florida to walk with me on “Kelly's Grandma's Team.” In 2014 and 2015, I was chair of the Walk Like MADD in the Midlands of SC, working with Program Director Steven Burritt. Chairing a Walk is hard, rewarding work. Although we hate why we're part of MADD, we're an awesome team, sharing walk experiences and ideas. 

Ginger Brengle: Nearly five years ago we lost an entire branch of our family tree. I remember driving to meet my cousin Amy the morning after the crash, unsure of what to expect. As soon as I saw her face, and the faces of the young widows, I knew what I had to do. I became their rock—I made phone calls, made them eat when they weren't hungry, and drove them to the police station for the guys' personal effects. I knew I wanted to do something to prevent others from feeling such pain. August 1, 2011, one year after the crash, I stood vigil at the crash site. We held up signs and talked to anyone who would listen about the dangers of DUI. Each year, the vigil draws more attention, with local media highlighting our story and law enforcement joining the event. That first year, MADD Victim Advocate Carole Dirksmeyer saved our sanity. She was at every court hearing, kept in constant contact, and provided emotional support. I participate in MADD events to repay the benefits of those advocate services. I participate on my local Walk Like MADD committee, and Amy, my aunt Patricia, and I attend each other’s Walk Like MADD events each year. In 2014, the Pinellas County Walk Like MADD was dedicated to our family, and our team “M'n'M's (McConnells 'n' More)” exceeded its fundraising goal!  We walk to share our story with the community and to support MADD's programs and services.

Our next Walk Like MADD is on November 21st in Largo, FL. Come walk with us!


   
Ginger Brengle, Patricia Voelker,
and Amy Voelker
Team McConnell Men at the
2015 Central Fl Walk like MADD


New Online Tools for Victims

MADD is one of the largest victim services organizations in the country, working to ensure that victims' rights are maintained, as well as providing support for victims and survivors of drunk and drugged driving. We have more than 1,000 trained victim advocates nationwide, as well as our 24-hour Help Line available to provide victims with the support they need, when they need it most. And we want to serve as many victims as possible...until there are no more victims left to serve.

That’s why this week, in honor of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, we are pleased to announce two new online tools for victims and survivors to find support.

VS-New-FB-Group.png VS-Chat-Tool.png


We just created a new Facebook Group exclusively for victims and survivors of drunk and drugged driving.
The purpose of this new Group is to provide an online forum for victims and survivors to connect, share, and seek support. If you are a victim or survivor of drunk and/or drugged driving, please join our MADD Victim Services Facebook Group by clicking here and asking to join

Please remember this Group is intended only for victims and survivors. If you are not a victim or survivor, we hope you will join us on our Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Facebook page.

We are also proud to announce that we have implemented a new online chat feature on our website, which provides another way for victims of drunk and drugged driving crashes to contact MADD Victim Services when they are in need of assistance. The live chat can be found on the MADD homepage and the Victim Services page and is generally available Monday through Friday, during regular business hours. If for some reason a Victim Services staff member is unavailable, you can leave a message in the chat box and your question will then be emailed and answered by a Victim Services Advocate as soon as they are available to respond.

If you are a victim or survivor, we hope you will take advantage of these new healing tools to connect with other victims and survivors, or if you are in need or support. You can also help us spread the word about these new tools to any victims or survivors you know.


Justice for Taylor

Taylor Pirc was only four years old when she was killed by a repeat drunk driving offender. Taylor and her Grandma were on their way to take food to Taylor’s great-grandmother, who was sick. They were driving through a busy intersection when a car coming from the other direction and swerving from lane to lane turned too soon. He hit the median and came down on the back half of the car where Taylor was sitting. 

After the crash, the drunk driver was convicted, but he immediately appealed. The conviction was overturned due to a technicality and a re-trial was scheduled. The re-trial was declared a mistrial, but an appellate court deemed it was possible to again re-try. Now, close to six years later, it went to trial once again, and he was convicted and sentenced to the maximum punishment of 14 years. 

Throughout all of the court cases, Taylor’s mother Cristy was there for every hearing – even if was just to postpone it until another day. When sentencing came, she was allowed to read her victim impact statement in the courtroom, but other family members were not—they were only allowed to write letters to the judge. Several family members who wanted to speak were never given that opportunity.

On top of the long, drawn-out court case, Cristy and her family were verbally attacked by the defendant’s family in the halls of the courthouse. A re-victimization that no victim should have to go through when trying to get justice for a loved one.

In 2014, Cristy’s state amended its crime victim’s bill of rights to include several changes, including a victim’s right to be heard at any court proceeding involving a post-arraignment release decision, plea or sentencing. They also included a victim’s right to be free from harassment, intimidation and abuse throughout the criminal trial process. 

These two amendments weren’t available to Cristy and her family when they went through the criminal justice process, but their experience highlights just how important these rights are and how vital it is that victims are notified of their rights so that they can exercise them.  Cristy now encourages every victim to educate themselves about what their rights are so that they can make sure their voice is heard. 

MADD Victim Advocates help victims and survivors in a variety of ways, including letting them know what their rights are, advocating on their behalf in the criminal justice process, and attending court with them. If you or a loved one has been impacted by a drunk or drugged driving crash and would like to speak with a MADD Victim Advocate, please call the MADD Help Line at 1-877-623-3435 or 1-877-MADD-HELP to speak with someone right away.


This week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, a time to recognize those who have been impacted by crime and renew our efforts to make sure these victims receive justice.  This year’s theme, Engaging Communities. Empowering Victims, emphasizes the role of the entire community, individually and collectively, as we support victims of crime and empower them to direct their own recovery.  You can help by
volunteering as a MADD Victim Advocate or by spreading the word about MADD Victim Services.

 


#TributeTuesday: Alejandra De La Garza

21 Days in Support of 21: Day 14

By MADD volunteer, Juan De La Garza

My journey begins in the early hours of January 12, 2014. What should've been a calm night turned in to the most horrific ordeal for many. At approximately 12:30 a.m. a part of me was taken. My family lost the most important and influential person we knew—my 17 year old sister Alejandra.

Alejandra was a beautiful person inside and out, compassionate, hardworking and so determined. My sister played many roles and wore many hats. She was an honor roll student and an active member of our church. But her most important role was mother. Her pride and joy came in the form of little Filiberto. He could do no wrong in her eyes. Alejandra made sure any negativity or stigma that came from being a teen mother would be overshadowed by her accomplishments both in and out of the classroom.

Not a day goes by that I don't miss Alejandra. Every day is constant reminder that my family is broken, and a part of me is missing. On that cold morning in January, many people lost a friend, a loved one, when a beautiful life cut extremely short. Many dreams shattered and plans broken all because a selfish 19-year-old made the poor decision to drink underage, and then drive.

My sister missed out on many milestone moments. Alejandra will never get to experience the excitement of getting ready for prom. She never had the opportunity to go off to college, let alone apply for one. Most importantly, Alejandra will never get to see her son grow up. It’s heartbreaking knowing my sister will miss out on so much. And what haunts me the most is knowing this could've been avoided. Had it not been for that underage drunk driver, my sister would still be here. My nephew would still have his mother and my family would still be complete.

When I least expect it, I am puzzled by the same question over and over again. "Was my sister's life worth that drink?" There are a million questions that run through my mind, but I know that even if I ever had the chance or the courage to ask the 19-year-old that killed my sister a question, I'd be at a loss for words. There will never be a correct answer or an apology big enough to heal my broken heart.

I've made it my mission to make sure this tragedy never happens again to any family. Being able to team up with MADD has been a beautiful experience. Bringing awareness to so many young lives and their families is just so unforgettable.

I remember an event I did at a local high school. After I spoke, a student came up to me and hugged me. There, in a gymnasium full a strangers, a young 17-year-old girl cried on me. She showed nothing but gratitude. When I asked why she cried or why she thanked me, the only thing she could say was “Your sister's story touched me, it opened my eyes. I never want to put my parents in that position. I never want to lose a friend. I want to make the right choice, and stay above the influence." In that very moment I knew out of the 1,000 students present that day, my job was done. One life changed, one less teen drinking, one young life deciding to be responsible. All because of my sisters life.

I encourage everyone to take advantage of MADD’s underage drinking prevention programs for PowerTalk 21®. Students, teachers, parents use the materials to make a difference. The more we make it know, the more awareness we bring to our cause.

Don't be the reason why a family is broken, a child is left without a mother or why many hearts are broken. Join MADD and start the conversation this PowerTalk 21 day to help prevent underage drinking and save lives!

MADD National President Colleen Sheehey-Church poses with Juan at his sister's photo at the 2015 PowerTalk 21 Kick-off in Houston


The Prevention of Underage Drinking Will Help Us Reach Our Ultimate Goal

21 Days in Support of 21: Day 6

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been at the forefront of drunk driving prevention for 35 years. Research shows that teens are over-represented in crashes and that the long-term effects of underage consumption play a part in the propensity of a person to make the choice to get behind the wheel after drinking. That’s why MADD works to help prevent underage drinking, because research shows that the prevention of underage drinking will help us reach our ultimate goal: to end drunk driving and therefore, save countless lives.

There’s no doubt that traffic crashes are a major source of tragedy for youth. In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 24 percent of the young drivers involved in fatal crashes had been drinking. This amounts to 926 drivers aged 15-20 who were involved in fatal crashes.

But drunk driving is not the only concern when it comes to underage drinking—taking away the keys does not take away the risk. Underage drinking is also associated with violent crime, property crime, unintentional injury, risky sex, and long-term alcohol problems. Using 2010 data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates that 32 percent of all deaths related to underage (age 15-20) alcohol use were traffic fatalities and 68 percent were other fatal incidents, including homicides (30 percent), suicides (14 percent), alcohol poisonings (9 percent) and other causes of death (15 percent).

Young people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence and are two and a half times more likely to become abusers of alcohol than those who begin drinking at age 21. In 2009, 64,831 youth 12-20 years old were admitted for alcohol treatment in the United States, accounting for 8% of all treatment admissions for alcohol abuse in the country.  And teen drinking leads to greater risk of drunk driving in their future as well.

The good news is that according to a GfK Roper Youth Report, 74% of adolescents aged 8-17 years reported parents as the most influential person in their decision not to drink at all or not to drink on occasion. Parents DO have the power to communicate with and therefore influence their kids’ decisions about alcohol, which can help protect them both now and in the future. Get MADD’s parent handbook(s) to start the conversation about alcohol today with your kids and help keep them safe both now and in the future.


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