Voices of Victims: Chris Mason

By Steve Mason

As I begin to write my thoughts about becoming a Peer Support Volunteer for MADD, the words to the song Closer To Love by recording artist Mat Kearney come to mind.  The song includes these words:  "I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees…”

For my family, that phone call came at 2:15 AM May 7, 2005. Our youngest son, Chris, was home from college for a three-day weekend. Three of Chris' friends from college drove to our small town that Friday evening to attend a "campfire party" where many of Chris' friends would be hanging out.

Hours later, the phone rang, and the voice at the other end of the line was very shaky...very distraught...the male voice said "Is this Chris' Dad? You need to come quickly...there's been a crash...Chris is hurt really bad.”

Once we arrived at the crash scene, we quickly discovered what might easily be called a parent’s worst nightmare. Our first glimpse of the crash scene revealed a mangled car resting upside down against a large tree. Next to the car, we saw a motionless body being attended to by EMT's, and we quickly learned it was our 20-year-old son Chris.

Chris was airlifted to a nearby trauma center, where he survived for 17 hours. However, due to the massive injuries sustained in the crash, he died at 6:54 PM, May 7, 2005. We planned his funeral the following day....Mother’s Day, 2005. We learned that two other passengers in the car had been seriously injured, and the 20-year old-driver of the car had been arrested for drunk driving.

Here's the connection between the words to the Mat Kearney song and Chris' death. During the days between his death and his funeral, our grief was overwhelming. For me, the grief caused the neurotransmitters between my brain and my legs to "short circuit.” Without warning, my legs would buckle, and I would literally fall to my knees. I am guessing other victims/survivors have had similar experiences.

In the summer of 2015, a MADD staff member asked if I would be interested in becoming a Peer Support Volunteer. This would be a new volunteer role for me, but I was not new to volunteer work with MADD. For 10 years, I had volunteered as a speaker at Victim Impact Panels, school assemblies, youth conferences, and for other organizations with an interest in preventing and eliminating drunk driving. 

Once I learned a bit about the Peer Support training and what the responsibilities included, I quickly agreed to take the required training. Even though it had been ten years since Chris had been killed in an alcohol-related crash, the memories of unimaginable grief, confusion, and guilt were still quite vivid in my mind. Helping others navigate a similar journey is the goal of a Peer Support Volunteer.

Soon after I completed the peer support training, I began receiving the names and contact information for new victims of drunk/drugged driving. With each phone call, I expressed my most sincere condolences...I asked if they were getting emotional support. I asked about their deceased loved one(s). I asked what steps they were taking to find much needed continued support.

Some were understandably confused, uncertain where to turn for help. I let them know MADD would offer additional support via Victim Advocates, and I offered suggestions such as grief counseling and support groups like The Compassionate Friends. I suggested contacting their local United Way, their religious leader or perhaps a local funeral director for additional sources of assistance. I briefly shared my own experience and the struggle my family faced in learning to cope with the loss of a close loved one. I let each victim know there are many hurdles to cross, but they can survive.  I let them know that no one should tell them how to grieve or that there is a time limit to grief. I let them know that I care...that MADD cares and will offer additional support.

My volunteer work on behalf of MADD and the victims it serves has been bittersweet. Learning about the needless deaths is heartbreaking, but helping others understand the dangers of drunk/drugged driving and helping others deal with their loss has helped me in my healing process, a journey that has no finish line.

State Legislatures move forward with ignition interlocks

Legislators have been talking about ignition interlocks across the country this session, and MADD couldn't be more pleased to have played a role in pushing this lifesaving technology to the forefront.

With more than 1.77 million drunk driving attempts prevented since such laws began appearing at the state level, we believe this technology is critical to creating a future of No More Victims®. No other program or technology can stop a car from being driven by someone who is drunk. License suspensions don't work – 50 percent to 75 percent of drivers whose licenses are suspended for drunken driving continue to drive anyway. Other programs aimed at rehabilitating offenders do nothing to keep them from driving when attempts to abstain from alcohol fail.

That’s why we’ve made passing ignition interlocks for all offenders in all 50 states a centerpiece of our legislative push this session. Here’s a quick update on what we’ve accomplished together – and how much further we have to go to prevent the loss of another innocent life to this 100% preventable crime.

Maryland Noah’s Law

Tweet: #Maryland legislators, pass #NoahsLaw to protect families and our streets.

Before this session, a few powerful politicians staunchly opposed strengthening ignition interlock laws. However, Maryland has taken center stage for the ignition interlock push, following the death of Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta, who lost his life in December allegedly at the hands of a repeat drunk driver.

The measure passed the House earlier this month. The Senate approved “Noah’s Law” earlier this week following unanimous approval of the bill by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Next, it goes to the House/Senate Conference Committee to negotiate a final bill.

California SB 1046

Tweet: I ask the #California Legislature to pass #SB1046 #IgnitionInterlocks for all offenders.

The California Legislature is considering Senate Bill 1046, which would expand the current four-county pilot program statewide. All drunk driving offenders would be required to install the device. Authored by Sen. Jerry Hill, MADD believes this legislation will save lives.

Yesterday and today, we took part in press conferences before the Senate Public Safety Committee unanimously passed the legislation and sent it to the Senate Appropriations Committee for approval.

Pennsylvania SB 290

Tweet: I call on #Pennsylvania legislators to pass #SB290 #IgnitionInterlocks.

Last week, a bill strengthening the state's ignition interlock law passed out of the House Transportation Committee. Senate Bill 290, already approved by the Senate, would require first-time offenders with a .10 blood alcohol concentration or higher to install an ignition interlock for a year. The current law only requires the device after the second (and third and fourth…) offenses.

Next, the House will vote on the bill.

Georgia HB 205

Tweet: #Georgia legislators, approve #HB205 #IgnitionInterlocks

MADD National President Colleen Sheehey-Church called on the Georgia Governor to support House Bill 205 offering first-time offenders the option of installing an ignition interlock device rather than lose their license. The bill passed on March 24 and is now pending the Governor's signature.

Minnesota HF 1112

Tweet: I call on #Minnesota legislators to pass #HF1112 #IgnitionInterlocks

Minnesota is currently considering an all-offender ignition interlock law. MADD hosted a press conference last week in support of this lifesaving bill.

Vermont H 560

Tweet: I call on #Vermont legislators to pass #H560 #IgnitionInterlocks

Vermont is considering a bill, House 560, requiring all first-time offenders to install an ignition interlock device instead of license suspension.

This is an update to a law passed in 2010 offering offenders the option between a 90-day license suspension or installing the lifesaving technology. However, even if an interlock were selected, the offender still had a 30-day license suspension.

The bill passed the House earlier this month, and the Senate is expected to take it up soon.

What can you do?

MADD will continue to push through the end of every session for these bills. Please join us by donating $50 by March 31st to support the efforts to bring interlock laws for all offenders to all 50 states.

MADD employee retires, shares why he fights drunk driving

By Carl McDonaldMADD's National Law Enforcement Initiatives Manager

It is their last ride in a black and white. 

During my career with the Wyoming State Patrol, I frequently had the task of relaying retiring officers. It is a somber tradition involving driving them home after the troopers and supervisors turn in their cars and equipment at headquarters. After completing their last shift and reaching the end of their career, they are civilians now, going for their last ride in a black and white patrol car. The radio crackles, the business of state troopers continues, but they are separating themselves from this life, staring at the landscape going by through unfamiliar passenger-side positions, unarmed and in civilian clothes. 

Those are always quiet rides. One senses the troopers are deep in reflection. Driving these folks always prompts a bit of awe and wonder. My thoughts continuously drift to what that experience will be like for me when I reach that day.  

My retirement day from the state patrol came and went with very little time for reflection. I had too much to do and very little time. Awaiting my arrival was a new job at the national office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). This dramatic change included a short-notice move from Wyoming to Texas.  I was to carve out new territory as the organization’s first Law Enforcement Initiatives Manager.

That was ten years ago.

In ten years’ time, great things have taken place at MADD. I arrived in 2006, the same year MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving kicked off. As an integral part of the newly created Campaign, the Law Enforcement Initiatives Program has since hosted hundreds of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges in a wide variety of summits, workshops, and training events, including each of the intervening MADD National Conferences.  

We covered a wide spectrum of topics including examples such as small agency DWI tactics and search warrant requirements for no-refusal policies. We’ve held workshops on the relationship to crime and traffic safety, ignition interlock primers for law enforcement officers, and we’ve even had the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to one national conference for a demonstration of their innovative problem-solving model.

I’ve had the distinction of representing MADD at the highest councils of the law enforcement profession through service on committees of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriffs’ Association.  

I’ve done a few things that are not exactly in my job description. For five years as a volunteer on our Victim Help Line, I was a voice in the dark receiving middle of the night phone calls assisting victims in their hour of need. I’ve enjoyed both the privilege of the invitation and the honor to deliver keynote speeches at dozens of MADD law enforcement recognition events where we celebrated the efforts of thousands of officers across this nation thanking them for their work to stop the preventable crime of impaired driving.

Perhaps most importantly, during this ten years I was here to help when a MADD volunteer, employee, or concerned citizen needed answers or opinions on a course of action related to law enforcement, a critical court case, or just wanted the ear of someone who might understand. That’s a bottom-line function, something all of us do here at MADD. I am now, and forever will be, humbled and grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this culture-changing organization fighting for the most important of reasons – a future of no more victims.

As I begin to write the next chapter in my life, I want my MADD family to know how meaningful and enriching this opportunity has been for me. To all of you – your work will always have a special place in my heart. As I approach one more final retirement I am moving once again and chomping at the bit to launch into my new (always epic) adventures without the constrictions and deadlines of a career.

Be well…and keep ‘em safe.

I wonder if Penske moving trucks come in black and white? 

Bob and Laura Hudson Helped Build MADD in SC

From the very beginning of MADD’s history in South Carolina, Laura Hudson and her husband, Bob, have been at the forefront of the state's struggle against drunk driving. Laura's influential career in victims’ rights advocacy in South Carolina spans more than three decades, with a lengthy list of accomplishments to her name. She championed the passage of the state’s first open-container laws, the push to upgrade DUI offenses to a felony from a misdemeanor, and expanding requirements for convicted DUI offenders to install ignition interlock devices in their cars, known as 2014’s “Emma’s Law,” amongst many others.

We are honored to have Bob and Laura as Honorary Chairs at this year's Walk Like MADD Columbia, presented by Molina Healthcare of South Carolina, April 9th.

Bob, originally from North Carolina, and Laura, originally from Texas, moved to South Carolina in 1976, and it was not long after settling into the community that Laura received her first calling to serve. Through a conversation with her neighbor, Laura’s attention was first brought to the burgeoning MADD movement, which at that time was just starting to get national attention by highlighting the tragic death of MADD founder Candace Lightner’s daughter, Cari.

Shortly after this conversation, Laura met with David Jameson at LRADAC, who asked her to participate in the founding of a MADD chapter in South Carolina. Having had a chance to meet Candace Lightner shortly thereafter, Laura began the rigorous process of getting MADD’s mission on track in South Carolina.

The steps required to set up a MADD chapter included such activities as riding along with law enforcement officers, spending time observing prosecutors in court, and interviewing judges. The process was not easy, as many of the people she attempted to persuade to MADD’s cause were resistant to what they saw as outside interference.  As Laura puts it, “Our magistrate and municipal courts were not used to having people coming in and asking them anything, and they tried everything they could to keep me out of it.”

At the time, DUI offenses were not treated with anything close to the level of seriousness merited.  “It was maybe $200 when you kill somebody in a DUI,” Laura recalls of those times. “It was not elevated to the level that was needed.”

Undeterred by the resistance, Laura became a consistent presence at the South Carolina State House, becoming acquainted with both the legislators personally, as well as the particular challenges of trying to get policy changes enacted by people who were only starting to see the value of cracking down on drunk driving offenses. 

She has worked with several governors and considered Senator Strom Thurmond, who lost a daughter to a drunk driver, as a major supporter of MADD’s mission.

MADD SC’s first big success was in getting DUI offenses changed from a misdemeanor to a felony.  “It was hard,” she recalls.  “People were reluctant to lock people up when they said ‘Well, it’s an accident.’ No, it’s not! It’s not an ‘accident’ at all. You make the decision to drink, you make the decision to drink too much, and you make the decision to get in a vehicle.” 

Laura and MADD also were instrumental in changing the state law to the 21 minimum legal drinking age and the .08 BAC standard, both extremely significant events in the reduction of drunk driving deaths.

Laura also expanded her protection of victims to issues beyond drunk driving:  general traffic safety, domestic violence, and child welfare to name a few.  Through strong support from Bob, Laura has worked a substantial period of her career with no salary.  Many have assumed, understandably, that Laura has been a paid MADD staff member before, but everything she has done for the organization has been as a volunteer.  She is still an active Board Member and Chair of our Policy Committee today.

Despite having made some monumental changes to the laws, Laura is still not satisfied with the strength of the language in South Carolina’s current DUI laws.

“There are several things that need to be cleaned up,” she says. “One is that we need to have dedicated prosecutors  not highway patrol and law enforcement officers  trying DUI cases.”

Walk Like MADD Columbia is, in part, a celebration of all we have accomplished in 35 years at MADD South Carolina.  We also celebrate Laura and Bob Hudson's support our mission to this day, which means that continued victories lay ahead.

BoardMember Shares Story of Hope at TSHA Conference

MADD Vice Chairman Steven Benvenisti, a personal injury trial lawyer, shares his most life-changing drunk-driving case with more than 5,000 members of the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Fort Worth. 

The case involved a college student hit by a repeat offender while on Spring Break. Doctors gave the student little hope for survival, much less a productive life. However, if you want to believe in miracles, just skip to the 35-minute mark. 

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