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A Dad’s Determination
By MADD | April 12, 2014 | Filed in: Victim Services

Originally published in A Voice for Victims: MADD Victim Services Report.

Joey Romero dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps – to serve his country in the military. He also dreamed of becoming a police officer. But his dreams turned into a tragic nightmare on October 29, 2010. While he was walking home from work, Joey was hit by a drug impaired driver just two blocks from his home in Peoria, Arizona. The driver fled from the scene and left Joey there as he suffered from a blow to the head, a broken back and internal bleeding. Two days later, with his father by his side, Joey died from massive head trauma.

Joey, who was 18 years old when he was killed, was the youngest of five children that his father, Jesse Romero, had raised on his own.
“He was my baby,” explains Jesse. “When it happened, I tried to hide my pain from my other kids.”

The drugged driver received a sentence of six years in prison and three years of probation. But Jesse was disappointed in the sentencing. “I thought she got off too easy,” he recalls.

Not knowing how to cope with the grief the Romero family was experiencing, Jesse reached out to MADD to find support for his daughters, and they joined a MADD grief support group. “We felt really comfortable at the MADD meetings. They listened to us and let us talk,” Jesse says. “It really helped – more than the other support groups we tried.”

At one of the meetings, Jesse talked about the hit-and-run laws in his state and the penalties given to offenders. They seemed too lenient and didn’t make sense to him. When one of the MADD volunteers suggested that he could do something about it…that he could work to change the law…Jesse was determined to try.

With MADD providing the information and support he needed, Jesse channeled his grief into action. He went out into the community to gather support. He found a sponsor to push the legislation through, and less than two years after Joey’s crash, Jesse’s hard work and determination paid off.

“Joey’s Law,” which increases the penalties for those who leave the scene of a crash in Arizona, was passed in 2012.

“Because of this law Joey will be remembered forever,” Jesse says proudly.


A Child Endangered
By MADD | April 11, 2014 | Filed in: Victim Services

Originally published in A Voice for Victims: MADD Victim Services Report.


Brothers Gavin, 10, and Drake, 14, were best friends and rarely apart. But on the day of Gavin’s crash, they were not together. “Gavin was Drake’s rock and Drake was Gavin’s security blanket,” says their mother, Julie Vander Wel. Even though Drake couldn’t have prevented it, he felt guilty about not being with his brother the day Gavin was killed.

The boys’ parents were divorced and they lived with their mother in Orange City, Iowa. Despite her concerns about their safety when they were with their father (he had previous arrests for OWI — Operating While Intoxicated), the custody order mandated visits with him.

Gavin was with his father on his own that afternoon in July 2009. His father had been drinking. With Gavin in the car, he drove down the wrong side of the road and crashed into another vehicle, killing his son and seriously injuring a man in the other vehicle.

After the crash, Julie wanted to make sure justice would be served in her son’s case, but her victims’ rights were violated. She wasn’t alerted about upcoming hearings and the prosecutor would not communicate with her.

So Julie contacted MADD for help and was connected with a local victim advocate who provided the guidance she needed. A kind hearted probation officer kept her informed of the court dates, which ensured Julie and Drake were in court the day of the sentencing. Julie read her Victim Impact Statement out loud in court and made sure the judge knew how her family had been impacted by the crash.

“You could hear the sobs in the courtroom,” recalls Julie. After hearing Julie’s Victim Impact Statement, the judge handed down the maximum sentence allowed by law.

Today, Julie and Drake make sure Gavin’s voice continues to be heard. Drake, who is now a freshman in college, shares his brother’s story with his friends and distributes MADD bracelets to as many students as he can. Julie is a frequent speaker at MADD events, where she talks about substance impaired driving and child endangerment, and shares what her family has been through.

Julie says, “If Gavin’s story can touch just one person and change a life that would mean everything to him.”


Injuries You Can’t See
By MADD | April 10, 2014 | Filed in: Victim Services

Originally published in A Voice for Victims: MADD Victim Services Report.

On a December evening in 2010, Lee and Christa Hude and their three children were heading home after a visit with Santa at a mall in Lansing, Michigan. While they waited at a traffic light, a drunk driver with a blood alcohol content of .21 crashed violently into the back of their family van. Her 9-year-old son, Trenton, was seated in the back seat of the vehicle.

“The impact was so hard, Trenton’s seat was shoved to the middle of the van and the driver’s vehicle was halfway inside – his radiator was only inches from Trenton’s head,” Christa recalls.

As a result, Trenton suffered a traumatic brain injury with temporary loss of consciousness and vision.

According to Christa, the case seemed clear cut. The driver was drunk, he was a second-time offender and her son was traumatically injured, but the process took 14 months and the drunk driver only received a four month jail sentence with work release, some probation and the loss of his driver’s license. “I felt a lot of disappointment in our justice system.”

Why this kind of sentencing?

“My guess would be that the general public can see a fatality as something terrible, but in most cases of injury, those injuries heal or unless you knew the person before the crash, you might not notice a difference,” says Stephanie, MADD Michigan Victim Advocate.

After the crash, Stephanie assisted the Hudes with the judicial process and provided emotional support to the entire family. Christa says that MADD was instrumental in guiding her and her family through this difficult time. “Initially, Stephanie sent us brochures on the grieving process and information on how this kind of crisis can affect a marriage and how to cope. She even sent a book for the kids, to help them understand what they were going through,” Christa says.
“I felt like when I couldn’t understand what was happening [in our case] from the criminal end, talking to Stephanie gave us direction. She guided us through the situation. She even offered to meet us in court.”

Three years and countless tests and treatments later, Trenton has improved. But he and his parents have had to realize that there are sports he will never play, roller coasters he will never ride and seizures that will continue to require medication to control.

“As for my husband and me,” says Christa, “We struggle with several emotions, like trying to understand why the man who did this was barely punished, fear of being on the road, fear of what Trenton’s future will be like because of his injury and fear that the normal family life we enjoyed before the crash will never return.”


Gone in an Instant
By MADD | April 9, 2014 | Filed in: Victim Services

Originally published in A Voice for Victims: MADD Victim Services Report.

On February 27, 2003, 23-year-old Natalie Marti lost her 24-year-old husband, Shawn, and 5-month-old baby girl, Sage, when a drunk driver hit them head on. The family of three was traveling home on a familiar Idaho freeway. The two died instantly. The offender’s blood alcohol content was .21 — nearly three times the illegal limit.

“Words cannot describe the pain I felt emotionally after being told of the deaths of my precious husband and daughter,” says Natalie. “I felt like I had died too.”

In addition to losing her family, Natalie suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and was in a coma for three weeks.

“The TBI caused me great impairment,” she recalls. “I had to relearn how my brain works because it works so differently than before it was injured.”

At one point, someone she knew suggested she call MADD for help, but Natalie hesitated. “I thought MADD was a group of old, angry women.”

But she wanted and needed help, so she decided to give MADD a chance.

When Natalie made the call, she was relieved. “The women at the MADD Idaho office were not old and they weren’t angry — they were amazing and so kind,” Natalie admitted. “I loved how they made me feel — while other people were telling me how I should feel, the MADD volunteers and staff assured me that I had every right to be feeling what I was feeling.”

At her offender’s sentencing Natalie had a great deal of support. Her family and friends wrote and presented Victim Impact Statements. Because her brain injury was so fresh and it was hard for her to communicate, she asked the judge if she could show the court a video of the beautiful life she had shared with Shawn and Sage before the crash. He said yes.

As a result, the case was adjudicated with two counts of vehicular manslaughter and aggravated driving, with a sentence of five years for each death and three years for the aggravated driving charge.

Almost a year after the crash, MADD asked Natalie if she would consider speaking at a Victim Impact Panel. So she began telling her story.

“I found this to be very healing,” says Natalie. “Telling my story to others made me feel like something good could come out of this tragedy.”

After the crash, although it was tough, Natalie earned a degree in communications. She says that becoming a volunteer for MADD also helped to pave the way for a new career. Natalie now speaks professionally about her experience, the crash and her healing journey.

She says, “It makes life worth living.”

 


A Voice for Victims: MADD Victim Services Report
By MADD | April 8, 2014 | Filed in: Victim Services

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Each year in the U.S., more than 10,000 people are killed and another 345,000 are injured in drunk driving crashes. In connection with National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and the 30th anniversary of the national Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), MADD is releasing A Voice for Victims: MADD Victim Services Report, funded by the generous support of the General Motors Foundation, to raise awareness around the issues facing victims of drunk and drugged driving and underage drinking.

The new report, the first of its kind, provides an inside look at the current state of crime victims’ rights across the country, highlights the challenges both bereaved and injured victims are facing, shows how MADD is serving those victims, and urges concerned citizens to take action.

MADD is a victim service organization at its core. MADD serves more than 61,000 victims each year, and has more than 1,200 trained volunteer and staff victim advocates nationwide. In addition, MADD’s no-cost Victim Services Help Line is available 24/7 at 877-MADD-HELP. Some of the free services MADD offers to victims include:

  • Emotional support and guidance
  • Referrals to local counselors, support groups and attorneys
  • Help navigating the criminal and civil justice systems
  • Information and advocacy for coping with complex legal, medical and financial issues

MADD continues to advocate for victims and survivors to have their basic rights upheld — because we know that first there’s the crash, then the lifelong impact.

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