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.”
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.