On December 19, 2008, 11-year-old Dalynaca Watrous had friends over for a sleepover. She was excited to be on holiday break and was looking forward to Christmas.
Dalynaca’s father took her and her three friends out to look at Christmas lights. But what should have been a festive evening turned tragic when a drunk driver crossed the centerline and hit their car head on at 55 mph. Dalynaca was killed. Her father was seriously injured, spending a month in the hospital. The other three children, ages 12, 11 and 9, had broken bones and one had a nearly severed tongue.
The drunk driver was released in time for Christmas. Dalynaca’s family buried her on Christmas Eve.
Every day for three years after Dalynaca’s death, her grandmother, Gloria Polesovsky, cried. She says, “I felt like I had been gut punched. Nothing has ever hurt so much. I just wanted to fix it. I visited Dalynaca’s grave every day for two and a half years.”
Tilde Bricker, a MADD victim advocate in Ohio, provided victim services to Dalynaca’s family, helping them navigate the legal system and provide a shoulder for them to lean on during the aftermath of this tragedy.
"It's not who IS there, it's that she's NOT."
Eventually, the man who killed Dalynaca and injured her father and young friends was sentenced to 14 years in prison. But her family is left with a lifetime of grief.
“I miss her laughter, her smile, her clumsiness, and the way she would call me daddy. Not just the holidays but every day that she is not here,” said Dalynaca’s father, Dennis Wilburn.
Losing Dalynaca has stopped many of the family get-togethers they used to have. “It's not who IS there, it's that she's NOT,” Gloria says.
For the holidays, Dalyanca’s grandmother doesn’t put up outdoor decorations anymore because Dalynaca was her helper, and last year was the first Christmas since her death that they had a tree. Now, they honor Dalynaca each Christmas by decorating her grave with flowers and snowmen, and angels.
On June 18, 2002, Patti Foster and three other women were driving to their final Bible study of the summer. After the car she was traveling in came to a stop at a red light, Patti took off her seatbelt to check on the flowers that she was bringing everyone in the Bible study. At that moment, a drugged driver traveling at 70 miles per hour slammed into the back of their vehicle. The impact hurled Patti out of the car about three stories away until her body stopped in a lane of traffic.
Bystanders began to pray around her before a helicopter transported her to the Trauma ICU. Despite the all-night from the trauma team, Patti remained in a coma.
“If she does live, she’ll be a persistent vegetable,” the doctors told her family.
Six weeks later, Patti slowly began to wake up from her coma, but had many battles ahead of her. “When I began waking up, I had to re-learn every single basic function,” Patti said. “I couldn’t do anything on my own.” She credits her strength during this recovery process to the outpour of support from family and friends, and her steadfast faith.
Now, she is a motivational speaker as well as published in four books, in addition to her autobiography, entitled Coping with Traumatic Brain Injury. Most recently, her story was selected to be featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries.
Patti began writing after the crash as a way to continue healing. “Instead of becoming bitter, I’ve chosen to let it make me better and help others,” she says.
Patti’s story and positive outlook on life continues to inspire others around the world. “We don’t know how many moments we have left,” she says, “but while we have this moment may we choose to live it to the fullest.”
Patti volunteers with MADD East Texas and shares her story at Victim Impact Panels, school assemblies and other MADD presentations to help prevent others from experiencing the life-altering aftermath of a drunk or drugged driving crash that she had to endure.
On October 10, 2013, 23-year-old Eric Fischer and his girlfriend, 20-year-old Andrea Herrera, left the restaurant where they were watching a Tigers game to take care of their newly adopted puppy, Otis. On their way to Eric’s house, a drunk and drugged driver ran a red light and hit the car Eric and Andrea were driving in, pushing them into the path of a semi-truck. Both Eric and Andrea were killed.
Eric and Andrea met earlier that year at a local steakhouse where they were both working, and were inseparable. Eric was known as an easy going guy with a big heart and an even bigger smile. He got along with everyone. Andrea was funny and very creative, with an eye and a talent for turning simple things into something beautiful through a photo or painting.
Both Andrea and Eric were going to school, Eric for marketing, and Andrea for graphic design before their lives were tragically cut short by someone’s choice to drink and drive.
After the crash, the Prosecutor connected Eric and Andrea’s families with MADD Michigan. MADD Victim Advocate, Stephanie Hurst, helped prepare the families for the court process, accompanied them to the trial and offered a shoulder to lean on during the incredibly difficult time.
The drunk driver, who had a history of alcohol-related offenses, was sentenced to between 12-and-a-half and 30 years in prison.
With the trial behind them, Eric and Andrea’s families remain dedicated to making sure that this doesn’t happen to another family. They participated in this year’s Walk Like MADD event in Grand Rapids, Michigan on September 13th, raising $5,315 to put an end to this 100 percent preventable crime once and for all.
Read more about Andrea and Eric on their tribute pages, or make a donation in their honor.
On March 28, 2014, 22-year-old Michael Collins spent the evening out with friends at a spring formal near campus – he was just weeks away from graduating with a degree in exercise science from Illinois State University.
In the early hours of March 29th, Michael and his friends were picked up by a designated driver and were on their way home, when a drunk driver ran a red light and struck the vehicle Michael was riding in. Michael sustained severe head trauma and was rushed into emergency brain surgery. After four days of fighting for his life, Michael succumbed to his injuries on April 2nd.
The drunk driver had a BAC of 0.1777 percent – more than twice the legal limit. She recently pled guilty to two counts of aggravated driving under the influence.
Michael was an active member of the Illinois State community and is remembered as a bright and witty friend by those who knew him. He was a natural leader with a propensity for doing the right thing. Michael also assisted his father, Jim, in coaching baseball at University High School. Although his parents were not aware, Michael had signed up to be an organ donor and his organs and tissue went on to help as many as 200 people.
This past June, Michael’s friends and family formed at team at a Walk Like MADD event in Homer Glen, Illinois. The team called #MCstrong raised more than $4,500 for MADD Illinois.
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.