There are no words that can be said or written that can take away the pain.
That’s why I feel uneasy writing anything near Valentine’s Day. I realize that my words may never ease the loss that we all feel as victims of drunk drivers.
My son Dustin was killed by a drunk driver in 2004 at the age of 18.
I miss him terribly. Sometimes, I think I hear the door open, and I hear his voice filling the house. But I wake up to the realization that is was only a dream.
As the National President of MADD, I try my best to be the voice of thousands of victims… mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, families and friends whose loved ones were killed or injured by drunk drivers. I, like every other victim, will carry the burden forever. I take my job seriously and hope that I can, on this Valentine’s Day, bring some comfort to your heart, your soul and to your family.
I came across a quote by author Patti Smith. “Grief starts to become indulgent, and it doesn't serve anyone, and it's painful. But if you transform it into remembrance, then you're magnifying the person you lost and also giving something of that person to other people, so they can experience something of that person.”
I am blessed with the honor of introducing my son Dustin Church to many people. They can’t shake his hand or give him a hug. He’s not here. But they can get a glimpse of his vibrant personality. They also can peer into my world that was, is and could have been. In the words of the group Mercy Me, “I can only imagine”.
I don’t have any magic words or silver bullets… Only suggestions that have helped me. Go through this week slowly… Remember… Cry… Smile… and Share with others the dear one you lost. Do all of these with the hope and belief that one day there will be No More Victims®!
The new year is underway with MADD focusing on Child Endangerment. When people choose to drink and drive and put a child in the car, they need to be held accountable in a way that is commensurate with the crime.
In January, Washington, D.C. was the site of a gathering of key players for a panel to determine how to create a comprehensive plan to address the dangers our children face. Organized by MADD Law Enforcement Liaison Ron Repogle, the panel featured judges, attorneys, researchers, physicians, and MADD staff members.
Former MADD Law Enforcement Liaison Carl McDonald shared a mission moment, the story of the drunk driving crash that killed his daughter Carlie. She was only three years old. Sadly, Carlie’s story is one of many such stories across the country.
By sharing, Carl inspired us to find ways to make a difference. The panel will continue to meet throughout the year to craft strong solutions that can become a template for states around the country. I will share our results with you as we move forward.
We must and we will do everything we can to remember the children we have lost, those who have been injured and those we can save. I am honored to be a part of this Child Endangerment Panel, and I look forward to our work together toward a day when there will be NO MORE VICTIMS®.
When someone you love is killed by a drunk driver, all you have left are memories.
Your future can be reduced to despair or it can be propelled into advocacy that helps save the lives of others.
I watched the latter played out in the lives of the Rooney family in Ohio. A drunk driver killed 36-year-old Annie Rooney, an advocate and attorney, July 4th, 2013. Annie, an avid mountain biker who was looking for a sponsor to continue excelling at the sport, was driving home after picking up a bike at a friend’s house. The offender was going 100 miles per hour, resulting in several people calling into the police to report her erratic driving. An off-duty officer also pursued her because he witnessed her driving at dusk with no lights on through a school zone. READ MORE ABOUT ANNIE.
The driver was more than twice the legal limit and had been previously arrested for drunk driving three times.
In the midst of their mourning, Annie’s family began a mission… to have the state of Ohio improve the ignition interlock for all drunk drivers. Throughout the process of developing the law, the Rooney’s never missed a hearing. Annie, who had worked diligently as a prosecuting attorney on domestic violence and DUI cases, deserved a law in her name… Annie’s law.
For a while, it looked like the clock would expire for Annie's Law. Her family, including MADD National Boardmember Walt Rooney, went on Facebook Live with a plea. WATCH IT NOW. We rallied support and conducted a full-court press.
Finally, on December 6th, the bill was passed. It was unanimous. I had the privilege of being there at the State Capitol in Columbus, Ohio as the vote came in and watch the tears flow down the faces of the family.
Annie would live on in this law, “Annie’s Law”. And over the years, while the pain and suffering will continue for the family, the state of Ohio will reap the benefits of their dedication.
Lives will be saved thanks to them. And someday, all of us will be able to live in a world with NO MORE VICTIMS®.
As I look back at 2016, I realize I learned one very important lesson as the National President of MADD… getting ahead of the story makes all the difference in the world.
That was evident at the beginning of the year as the Ethan Couch drama swirled. Couch is the “Affluenza Teen” who killed four people, injured many and paralyzed another for life in a drunk driving crash in Texas. At 16-years-old, three times the legal limit of alcohol and with marijuana in his system, he destroyed lives and families forever. He received no jail time for his crime.
As the nation watched Couch’s blatant disregard for the law by fleeing to Mexico, they also watched you and MADD seize the opportunity to right the wrong. While I was in the media spotlight each day to explain our position, you were signing a petition created by MADD to change the outcome. The petition generated more than 50,000 signatures - 30,000 within 24 hours!
In less than 10 hours after sharing my open letter advocating for "Affluenza" teen Ethan Couch to serve 720 days in jail, the judge reaffirmed the adult probation terms and Couch received the sentence. While a woefully short sentence, it was the maximum that Texas law would allow at that point. However, Couch’s probation will expose him to the possibility of 40 years imprisonment in the future.
I saw a similar impact when MADD got involved in the Dylan Meyer drunk driving fatality case in Missouri. Another petition and my highly publicized letter to the judge helped put Meyer in prison on a 10-year sentence. I’ve also seen how getting ahead of the story has helped establish important legislation such as Noah’s law in Maryland and Annie’s Law in Ohio.
MADD’s voice is being heard. Your voice is being heard. And bringing our voices together, early and often, can create change.
So, don’t stop advocating for better laws.
Don’t stop remembering the victims, and don’t stop telling offenders that their excuses don’t work any longer.
Together, we can create a world where there are NO MORE VICTIMS®.