Partners in preventing crime

The recent 2017 Mid-Atlantic DUI Conference in Virginia Beach, Virginia provided a wealth of information about all aspects of drunk and drugged driving to more than 300 attendees. John Marshall, the Director of the Office of Safety Programs with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched the 3-day conference with his keynote address on “The Road to Zero”, eliminating all traffic fatalities.

 John Marshall, the Director of the Office of Safety Programs with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with MADD President Colleen Sheehey-Church

I also had the opportunity to speak to the attendees about Mothers Against Drunk Driving and its continuing Campaign to Eliminate Drunk and Drugged Driving.  My focus was on our support of law enforcement and what they do each day to make our roads safe.  

Speakers at the conference covered a variety of important topics including Ignition Interlock Devices, sobriety checkpoints, oral fluid testing, the emerging technology of the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, the Drug Recognition Expert program and many other topics. Even the DADSS car made an appearance for all to see and experience.  This advance technology may be the game changer in reducing drunk driving fatalities.  I will be one of the first to purchase one of these vehicles the minute they hit the market!

As someone who lost a child in a crash caused by a drunk and drugged driver, I was encouraged to see so many people devoting so much of their time and talent toward achieving the goal of NO MORE VICTIMS.

Honoring Dustin

When the violent crime of drunk driving enters your life, everything in your world is changed. For each person who has lost a loved one or been injured by the acts of a drunk driver, the path is different. In my case, it was the loss of my son Dustin. He was only 18 years old. Dustin was a strikingly handsome red head with freckles. When he entered a room, everyone would laugh and smile because of his captivating personality.

But all of that promise was snuffed out because someone chose to drink and drive. It was a violent crash as are they all. Dustin was a passenger in the back seat of a car that flipped over in mid-air and landed upside down in a river. Dustin was unable to get out and drowned.

After the shock and anguish of the loss, came months of negotiating a judicial system of which we had little knowledge. Fortunately for us, in Connecticut, unlike some other states, there are victim’s rights and we were kept well informed of the case by a caring prosecuting attorney and victim advocate. Still, it took ten months of investigating before an arrest warrant was issued. Then it was nearly a year of delays and continuances before the case was adjudicated.

Then there was the civil action which lasted another two years. It was nearly four years of our lives dealing with attorneys and judges to reach justice. But what is justice when your son has been killed by a senseless and completely preventable act? When the courtroom activity was completed, some people would ask us if we then had closure. There is no such thing as closure. We think about Dustin every day and miss him terribly. At every family gathering there is someone missing. At every Thanksgiving, there’s an empty chair. Closure? Whatever that is, we don’t have it.

A few years later when the woman who killed our son was released from prison, she violated every condition of probation including verifiable community service, caused a three-car crash while driving without a valid license and went back to prison for three more years. For us, that meant re-entering the judicial system. Not only that, Facebook information had been used in the sentencing portion of the Violation of Probation hearing, causing the defense to appeal.

That meant time at Connecticut’s Appellate Court. After upholding the decision, it was appealed again and the case was taken by the Connecticut Supreme Court. The original sentence was upheld and it was ruled that Facebook is acceptable for use in the sentencing portion of trials. Not only had our son been gone for years, but years of our lives had been taken away by the constant focus on the legal process.

It was at some point during that process that I became involved in Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I wish I had done it sooner. They were always there for me, helping me understand each step of the process. But they were also there as friends, caring about me and what I was going through because they understood.

How you go on after a loss is different for each and every person. I remember that for my husband and me, we felt we had a choice. We could either continue to be victims for the rest of our lives or do something to make a difference. We chose the latter. We joined the MADD State Advisory Board and volunteered at a variety of events including a Walk Like MADD for Dustin. A short time later, I became a member of the MADD National Board of Directors. My husband worked on drunk driving laws in our state, which now has an all-offender ignition interlock and DUI child endangerment laws. In 2015, I became the National President of MADD.

To honor our son, we created a summer camp for kids called "Dustin’s Place" that welcomed more than 200 people every day into a world of swimming, fishing, kayaking, caving, archery, arts and crafts and much more. It was a joy to see the fun the children had, knowing that the experience would impact the rest of their lives. And knowing that Dustin’s name would be a part of their fondest memories.

My suggestion to anyone who suffers the horror of the violent crime of drunk driving is to be a part of something greater than yourself. Become involved in helping others. Make a difference. Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a place where differences are made. You can volunteer at events in your area that educate people about this violent crime. You can talk to your legislators to make drunk driving laws in your state stronger. They will listen to you because you have a story that is meaningful. You can show your support for law enforcement as they work every day to keep the roads safer You can also help support MADD’s mission by making a donation.

You will also have the option to raise money for MADD’s mission in honor of your loved one. If you raise or donate $2,500 through your online tribute, you'll have the option of adding a leaf, engraved with a message of your choice, to the Tree of Life display located on the walls of the MADD National Headquarters. We will also send you a replica of your personalized leaf to keep at home.

Please help us in any way you can to ensure that one day, there will be NO MORE VICTIMS®.

I will remember all of you, you are in my heart each and every day,

Your friend,

Colleen Sheehey-Church, MADD National President

Ditching the "A" word

As National President of MADD, I have the opportunity to stand and support our law enforcement in all agencies across the country.  One such organization is the National Sheriffs Association, which has dedicated itself to serve the office of the Sheriff with police education, police training and general law enforcement resources for more than 75 years. 

As a member, I serve on the Domestic Violence and Crime Victim Services Committee and audit the Traffic Safety Committee. And at the recent 2017 Winter Legislative and Technology Conference in Washington, D.C., I had the honor of co-presenting with Sheriff John Whetsel on “Treating Victims of DUI/Impaired Driving Crashes as Crime Victims."

Our presentation centered on removing the “A” word from our vocabulary. The “A” word is "accident'. The right word for these violent crimes is “crash.” The aim of our seminar was to change that mind-set and to educate and ensure that victims of these crashes are responded to by law enforcement in a crime/victim-centered way, with all the referrals, support, and crime victim compensation resources due victims of a violent crime.

MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving has, as its first tenet, “support our law enforcement”. That’s why it is my honor to stand beside these brave men and women in all agencies and support them. They are our Heroes and are playing a huge part in bringing about the day when there are “No More Victims®!”

And, I am pleased to share, that the law enforcement members I spoke to were very receptive to the idea of replacing the "A" word with the real word - crash!

Transforming grief

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®!

Stepping up to protect endangered children

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®.

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