August 9, 2002 was supposed to be a special day for 27-year-old Angie Bass. She was recently married and was looking forward to celebrating her honeymoon that night. On her way to drop off her son Zack at school, a drunk driver traveling at 85 miles per hour crashed into their car, leaving Angie and Zack in critical condition. The following day, seven-year-old Zack died from his injuries.
The driver, a repeat offender with a BAC of 0.17 and also under the influence of both prescription and illicit drugs, proceeded to hit a second car before his truck came to a stop in the embankment. He was convicted of 2nd degree murder and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. He sustained no major injuries from the crash.
Although Angie survived her injuries, she carries the burden of physical and emotional pain every day. “There is no greater loss than the loss of a loved one,” she says, “Zack was an extraordinary child.”
Zack was a loving and fearless child, and was very smart for his age. He loved to play soccer and had dreams of becoming a fireman or artist. Angie says, “He made every single day a wonderful day to treasure and had a way of making everyone around him feel special.”
After the crash, MADD provided victim services to Angie and her family, including assistance navigating the legal system, as well as court accompaniment during the trial and supportive literature that she credits for helping her learn to cope with the tragedy.
Today, Angie and many other members of Zack’s family are still a part of MADD. They attend local MADD events like victim support groups and victim tributes. Angie continues to help spread awareness of the dangers of drunk and drugged driving by sharing her personal experience. “I would share my story a million times in the hopes of saving one life the pain that my family and I endure,” she says.
On July 8, 2011, sixteen-year-old Aaron Carrillo and his friend Jon were stopped on the shoulder to help their friend Mark, whose car had stalled on the highway. The teens were members of a Christian rock band and were on their way home from playing a show.
The drunk driver, who was traveling on the shoulder of the highway at 70 mph, never applied the brakes when he crashed into Mark’s car. Mark and Jon were inside the car and Aaron was standing outside. Aaron was killed instantly and Jon was taken to the hospital where he later died. Mark survived his injuries, but now lives each day with the horrific memory of his friends’ deaths.
Aaron was a vibrant young man who lived life to its fullest and excelled in everything he set his mind to do. Beyond his academic, athletic, creative and musical gifts, his greatest gift was his big heart for people. He had a genuine desire to make people feel loved and encouraged and was known for his bear hugs and thumbs up sign. Aaron's infectious smile and witty personality made him very approachable and he easily made friends everywhere he went. Aaron is loved and deeply missed by everyone who knew him.
Aaron and Jon
The drunk driver, who had a BAC of .29 and also tested positive for cocaine, was given the maximum sentence allowable in the state of Texas—two, 20 years terms to be served consecutively for a total of 40 years. According to the El Paso District Attorney’s office, this was the largest sentence given in the city for a DWI/DUI case.
MADD Victim Advocates were connected with the Carrillo family through the District Attorney’s Victim Assistance Program and provided support and court accompaniment throughout the criminal justice process.
The Carrillo family continues to participate in MADD events and working to raise awareness about the dangers of drunk driving. They have attended Candlelight Vigils and created a Walk Like MADD® team in memory of Aaron and Jon. This March, the Carrillo family worked with the City of El Paso to create a video about Aaron to remind the public to drive safe and sober and hopefully, prevent another family from experiencing the pain of losing someone to this 100 percent preventable crime.
On May 31, 1999, 18-year-old Matt Dawson was at a field party with his girlfriend. Since he had a 1:00 a.m. curfew and his girlfriend didn’t have to be home until 2:00, he decided to catch a ride home with a group of friends headed to a store near his house.
They were traveling at an estimated 89 miles per hour when they crashed just a few blocks away from Matt’s house. Both Matt and the driver were not wearing seatbelts and were ejected from the car. The other three people in the car, including the driver, were injured, but survived. Matt was killed.
“As parents, as a family, we will never be the same as we were on that date,” Matt’s mother Laura Dawson said.
Matt was a friend to everyone and only saw the good in people. He considered everyone a friend and was always willing to help anyone in need. Matt was a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, and occasionally taught classes. He loved music and was a great artist.
However, Matt’s death wasn’t the first brush with drunk driving tragedy for the Dawson’s. Matt was actually the second of three cousins in his family killed in drunk driving crashes:
Tim Dawson – killed in 1976 in Mississippi
Matt Dawson – killed in 1999 in Virginia
Stephanie Ward Stahl – killed in 2012 in West Virginia
Laura says that her family’s experience with so much devastation because of drunk driving has made the family closer, “but shows that no family is immune.”
In Matt’s case, the driver, whose BAC was .212, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to six months in jail.
After the trial, Laura began volunteering for MADD and later became a certified victim advocate so she could provide assistance and support for other families impacted by drunk driving. She also served as leader of her local MADD chapter in Virginia. She continues to shares Matt’s story at MADD victim impact panels, and school and community events.
On June 1, 2000 in Miami, Florida, 16-year-old Helen Marie Witty – known as H.M. to her friends and family – decided to take advantage of the sunny afternoon and go rollerblading. She was on a designated bike path when she was hit and killed by a 17-year-old drunk driver. Helen Marie died instantly.
The driver spent the afternoon binge drinking and smoking marijuana at a friend's house, before she left in a hurry, heading home in time to get money from her parents before they left town on a trip. She was traveling 60 mph in a 30 mph speed zone and lost control of the car. Her blood-alcohol level was 0.09 at the scene of the crash.
She was sentenced to 6 years with 10 years’ probation, and was ordered to speak to students while incarcerated. After her release from prison, she was deported.
Helen Marie was a straight-A student, vice president of her class and belonged to three honor societies. She was passionate about theater and dreamed of Broadway. She was planning to direct the opening night of a school play the following night. Her tragic death devastated the community.
Helen Marie’s mother, also named Helen, says that after the crash, life became instantly incomprehensible. The emotions were physical and too painful to describe. But she found a way to manage her grief with the help of faithful friends, through therapy and volunteering with MADD. After 10 years as a volunteer, she is now a full-time program specialist for MADD Miami Dade County.
Nearly fourteen years later, Helen Marie’s loved ones still gather each year for the Miami Walk Like MADD to celebrate her life and honor her memory. This past February, Helen Marie’s Hikers was one of the top fundraising teams.
Alexis Schooley and several friends were celebrating her 17th birthday at the home of a teenager whose father was out of town. But early in the morning on Sunday, March 6, 2011, a fire broke out while Alexis and several others were sleeping.
Alexis and five others were unable to escape and were killed in the fire. Hood County officials confirmed that the use of alcohol "may have contributed to the inability of the victims to escape."
Alexis was an extremely fun, funny, smart, creative and loving person. She loved people, loved to have a good time, to dance, sing, act, draw, design clothes, photography, and loved animals. The consequences of this tragedy were the losses of her life, dreams, and future. There would be no high school or college graduations, no first car or house. No first love, no wedding, and no children for her.
Alexis’s mother, Tiffany Ryan, thought her daughter was at a sleep over. She talks about what she wishes she would have done differently that night, “I wish I would have followed up on the dad's phone number that I requested before she left for the sleepover. I could have argued with her longer when she called that she come home Saturday night, like I had instructed Friday when she left.”
There were no criminal charges filed, because the fire was considered an accident. But after it was over, Tiffany knew she had to do something — something to give herself some sense of purpose and a little bit of peace. Having been a member of SADD, (then called Students Against Drunk Driving) in high school, one of the places she thought to reach out to for help was MADD.
So Tiffany called MADD’s National Victim Services Help Line (877-MADD-HELP) and was referred to a local North Texas victim advocate who was there to support her. The advocate wrote a letter to the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) on Tiffany’s behalf. Although it was difficult waiting for something to happen, the advocate stayed in touch with Tiffany, assuring her that being patient would pay off. The advocate continued to follow up with the TABC. About a year later, the store’s license was revoked and their doors closed.
Tiffany says, “I hope my story makes one or two kids think twice about their actions and understand that no one is fireproof or bulletproof — that one bad choice can affect you and those who love you forever.”
Parental influence is the most important factor in helping keep teens safe—that’s why MADD launched the Power of Parents program, sponsored by Nationwide Insurance. The goal of Power of Parents is to educate parents and caregivers about the dangers of underage drinking, and give them the tools they need to talk with their kids about alcohol. In addition, we’ve designated April 21st as PowerTalk 21 day—the national day for parents to talk with their kids about alcohol. In preparation for PowerTalk21, download the parent handbook for tips and tools to help you start this lifesaving conversation. You can find additional resources at madd.org/powertalk21.