21 Days in Support of 21: Day 14
By MADD volunteer, Juan De La Garza
My journey begins in the early hours of January 12, 2014. What should've been a calm night turned in to the most horrific ordeal for many. At approximately 12:30 a.m. a part of me was taken. My family lost the most important and influential person we knew—my 17 year old sister Alejandra.
Alejandra was a beautiful person inside and out, compassionate, hardworking and so determined. My sister played many roles and wore many hats. She was an honor roll student and an active member of our church. But her most important role was mother. Her pride and joy came in the form of little Filiberto. He could do no wrong in her eyes. Alejandra made sure any negativity or stigma that came from being a teen mother would be overshadowed by her accomplishments both in and out of the classroom.
Not a day goes by that I don't miss Alejandra. Every day is constant reminder that my family is broken, and a part of me is missing. On that cold morning in January, many people lost a friend, a loved one, when a beautiful life cut extremely short. Many dreams shattered and plans broken all because a selfish 19-year-old made the poor decision to drink underage, and then drive.
My sister missed out on many milestone moments. Alejandra will never get to experience the excitement of getting ready for prom. She never had the opportunity to go off to college, let alone apply for one. Most importantly, Alejandra will never get to see her son grow up. It’s heartbreaking knowing my sister will miss out on so much. And what haunts me the most is knowing this could've been avoided. Had it not been for that underage drunk driver, my sister would still be here. My nephew would still have his mother and my family would still be complete.
When I least expect it, I am puzzled by the same question over and over again. "Was my sister's life worth that drink?" There are a million questions that run through my mind, but I know that even if I ever had the chance or the courage to ask the 19-year-old that killed my sister a question, I'd be at a loss for words. There will never be a correct answer or an apology big enough to heal my broken heart.
I've made it my mission to make sure this tragedy never happens again to any family. Being able to team up with MADD has been a beautiful experience. Bringing awareness to so many young lives and their families is just so unforgettable.
I remember an event I did at a local high school. After I spoke, a student came up to me and hugged me. There, in a gymnasium full a strangers, a young 17-year-old girl cried on me. She showed nothing but gratitude. When I asked why she cried or why she thanked me, the only thing she could say was “Your sister's story touched me, it opened my eyes. I never want to put my parents in that position. I never want to lose a friend. I want to make the right choice, and stay above the influence." In that very moment I knew out of the 1,000 students present that day, my job was done. One life changed, one less teen drinking, one young life deciding to be responsible. All because of my sisters life.
I encourage everyone to take advantage of MADD’s underage drinking prevention programs for PowerTalk 21®. Students, teachers, parents use the materials to make a difference. The more we make it know, the more awareness we bring to our cause.
Don't be the reason why a family is broken, a child is left without a mother or why many hearts are broken. Join MADD and start the conversation this PowerTalk 21 day to help prevent underage drinking and save lives!
MADD National President Colleen Sheehey-Church poses with Juan at his sister's photo at the 2015 PowerTalk 21 Kick-off in Houston
21 Days in Support of 21: Day 7
On December 21, 1990, 17-year-old Tanya Lynn Stage was at a slumber party with friends. But what her parent’s thought was your typical, teen slumber party with pizza and girl talk wasn’t quite as it seemed. The mother hosting the party served alcohol to the girls at the event. Then, later in the evening, Tanya and another girl decided to go across the street to a gas station to meet up with four guys and go for a ride.
As they drove down a back-country road, the teens all continued to drink. The driver hit a patch of ice and lost control of the car, going down an embankment and striking a tree. Unbelted in the backseat, Tanya died of a broken neck on impact. One other passenger was also killed.
After the crash her family had to deal with the multitude of emotions … anger at both the driver and the mother who served alcohol to their daughter and guilt, wondering if they could have done something different, paid more attention or talked to her more about the dangers of underage drinking and getting in the car with someone who was drinking.
If Tanya were alive today she would be 42. What would she be doing now? Would she have a family? Would she be happy? These are the questions her family is left with, even now, 25 years later.
Tanya’s father, Randall Young, now works with MADD as a program coordinator in Ohio, and his wife, Sue, volunteers. They hope that their work with MADD in Tanya’s honor can prevent others from experiencing the devastation underage drinking can cause.
You can create a tribute page for your loved one killed or injured because of underage drinking, or drunk or drugged driving at madd.org/tributes.
When Nicole Rosen was 16-years-old, she and her sister went to dinner and out dancing. Nicole wasn’t drinking, but her 20-year-old sister was. When it was time to leave, Nicole tried to take the keys from her sister, but she refused. They fought in the parking lot over who should drive. Despite Nicole’s pleas to let her drive since she hadn’t been drinking, her sister got in the car and drove off, leaving Nicole behind.
Nicole found a police officer and told him what happened, and called her mother to ask her to come pick her up. Nicole and her mother went back to her sister’s house and to wait for her. Around 4:30 a.m., they heard the knock on the door. It was an officer informing them that Nicole’s sister had been involved in a crash and was at the hospital.
Underage and impaired, Nicole’s sister drove the wrong way down a highway and clipped the tail end of an 18-wheeler, despite the truck drivers attempts to get out of the way. Luckily, Nicole’s sister only sustained minor injuries, and the truck driver was uninjured.
The next day, Nicole went to get her sister’s belongings out of her wrecked car. The passenger side, where Nicole would have been sitting had she agreed to ride with her sister, was completely smashed in. “If I was in that vehicle, there is no way I would have survived that crash,” Nicole says. “I thank my lucky stars every day that I knew not to get in the car with someone who had been drinking.”
There are many ways to feel victimized by drunk driving. Nicole may not have been in the car for the crash, nonetheless she was left with the emotional aftermath from the choice someone she loved made, and how close she was to being harmed. Even though she did everything she could think of to prevent her sister from driving, she felt helpless, knowing that the situation could have been avoided, but wasn’t. She was also left with the fear of how dangerous our roads can be because of drunk drivers and terrified to even drive.
Now, Nicole works with MADD to help spread awareness about the dangers of underage drinking and the importance of never getting in the car with someone who has been drinking.
“I still feel lucky that I was able to make the decision at such a young age to not get in the car when someone has been drinking,” Nicole says. “All of my friends know how strict I am about drinking and driving, I am always the one to offer to be a designated driver or call a taxi.”
On March 18, 2009, 29-year-old Erin Dufour was heading home from a shopping trip. She had just moved into a new apartment with a friend, and ran out to grab some cleaning supplies to get the place ready. But she didn’t make it back to her new home. Instead, she was hit head-on by a drunk driver, who had been drinking heavily at a local bar. Erin did not survive the crash.
Erin had a bright future. At the time she was killed, she was deciding what to do with her life. When her parents went through her personal items from work, they found an application to nursing school, partially filled out. Nursing school was always a dream of hers that she was obviously planning to pursue. She was always independent, always wanting to do things on her own. She was proud of standing on her own two feet.
Erin loved scary movies and amusement rides. She also loved Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie. She had a tendency to fall asleep after the beginning credits of every movie, even though she was the one who insisted on watching it. And she had a knack for choosing just the right gift for her loved ones birthday.
After the crash, Erin’s family connected with MADD Massachusetts victim advocate Roberta Domnarski.
“Our MADD Victim Advocate was a godsend to us in the aftermath of Erin's death,” said Erin’s mother, Kathryn Dufour. “She helped guide us through the legal system and helped us access grief counseling services. She remains a friend.”
Now, Erin’s family participates in Walk Like MADD, using “Team ERIN” to celebrate Erin’s life and help prevent other families from experiencing a loss like theirs.
“Nothing can bring her back to us, but we can work to build awareness of the devastating effects of drunk driving and help to eliminate it!” Kathryn said.
On February 20, 1994, Shawn Brown spent the afternoon with her 10-week-old son JaKori and sister visiting family. They were just a few miles from their house when a drunk driver, driving 60 miles per hour on the wrong side of the street, struck their car head on. The impact was so hard that everything that was in the trunk flew out the back of the car. He was trying to beat an oncoming train to the next intersection, but they later learned that there was never a train coming, the train track arms were broken.
Ten-week-old JaKori died at the hospital from his injuries, Shawn’s sister was seriously injured, and Shawn suffered a fractured skull, broke both her upper and lower jaw, as well as a broken femur. Despite being pronounced dead twice, she survived.
Shawn worked with her local MADD advocate in California throughout the court process, where the offender was sentenced to four years in prison. But it wasn’t until she moved to Georgia that felt compelled to get involved with MADD. She called the Georgia office and they immediately invited her to share her story at a Victim Impact Panel.
Shawn continues to share her story at MADD events, and participates in the Atlanta Walk Like MADD each year with team JaKori’s Angels. She also owns a bakery and has dedicated a cheesecake called “My Little Pumpkin” to JaKori, from which a portion of the proceeds are donated to MADD.
Shawn says, “If my tragedy can help others in anyway I will use it as a blessing to others. If it can save a life I would be forever humbled and grateful.”