On July 10, 2004, 18-year-old Dustin Church was hanging out with friends when they decided to go on a late-night pizza run. But on the way home, in the short two-mile stretch between the restaurant and the driver’s house, the speeding car ran off the road, hit an embankment and landed upside-down in a Connecticut river.
The driver was an impaired teenager, who had been illegally drinking underage and using drugs. Dustin was in the backseat of the two-door car as it sank into the river.
The two in the front seat survived. But not Dustin. He died trying to get out of the backseat. He died trying to breathe as the car sank deeper. In short, he died trying to live. But he didn’t live, he drowned.
Dustin, known for his fiery red hair and his laughter, had recently graduated high school and was trying to decide what he wanted to do for college. He was considering an acting career. Dustin was well liked by his peers and was always able to find the best in everyone.
Dustin’s step-mom, Colleen Sheehey-Church said that “for about a year, my husband, our other son and I were heartbroken and lost. Then I called MADD. They saved me.”
As time went on, Colleen and her husband Skip decided they didn’t want to just be victims. They wanted to be a part of the solution and started volunteering with MADD.
Colleen Sheehey-Church is now the newest MADD National President. She will travel the country sharing Dustin’s story and working to put an end to drunk driving.
|Colleen, Dustin and Skip|
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.
This holiday season, please keep victims like Dalynaca in mind as you celebrate with friends and loved ones. Always plan ahead with a non-drinking designated driver and remind others to do the same. And make a donation now to help MADD stop drunk driving tragedies like the one that claimed 11-year-old Dalynaca’s life. Every gift will be matched by our friends at Nationwide, dollar for dollar, up to our goal of $200,000!
|Gloria Polesovsky, Dalynaca's grandmother, with Dalynaca's photo at this year's Tie One On For Safety kick-off event in Ohio.|
|Courtesy of Donna Cummings Photography|
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.
Learn more about Patti on her website, www.pattifoster.com.
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.
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.