On May 23, 2002, 20-year-old Ryan Smith was picking up his sister and two friends from a high school play. At 9:00 p.m., Ryan’s mother Lory Gleason heard the doorbell ring; it was her neighbor telling her that there had been a “serious accident,” and he recognized Ryan’s car.
“Ryan loved his car. He had it all fixed up,” Lory said. “He would work for hours on it in our garage. It was one of his hobbies.” But when Lory and her husband arrived at the scene, they found Ryan’s car mangled in the middle of the intersection.
As they watched rescue workers and paramedics try to get the kids out of the car, the police told Lory what happened. A drunk driver ran a red light and then tried to run from the scene. “This car accident now became a crash,” Lory says. “As there is nothing accidental about drunk driving.”
Lory’s daughter and two friends were seriously injured. Two hours later, Ryan passed away in the emergency room.
The driver who killed Ryan Smith was a four-time repeat offender with a suspended license. The night of the crash, his BAC was over three times the legal limit. He was convicted of 2nd degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter, DUI with great bodily injury to multiple victims, hit and run and driving on a suspended license. He is now serving 27 ½ years to life.
“I thought I was going to die of a broken heart,” she says. “I didn’t know if I could survive another day.” But Lory made a choice…to face her grief head on and to make a difference in memory of Ryan. So she became a MADD volunteer, and she now leads the MADD California – Riverside County Chapter.
Early in the morning on Friday, April 13, 2012, Kirk Camacho was driving his two teenage daughters, Bree Ann and Kaely, to school. As the girls slept, Bree Ann, 16, in the front seat and her younger sister Kaely, 13, in the back, a drunk driver with a blood alcohol level of three times the legal limit was speeding down a road designated only for busses. He ran a red light and plowed into the Camachos’ minivan at about 100 miles per hour.
The collision tore the minivan in half. Bree Ann and her father survived with injuries, but Kaely, a bright and popular middle school cheerleader, was killed.
After Kaely’s death, there was a huge outpouring of support for the family from the community. In fact, a year later, the street in front of the middle school she attended was re-named in Kaely’s honor.
Soon after the crash, the Miami-Dade police department contacted MADD Miami and asked them to reach out to the Camacho family. They were connected with local MADD Victim Advocates Sally Matson and Helen Witty, who provided emotional support and assistance through the trying legal process.
|Kaely and Bree Ann|
Now, the Camacho family works with MADD to share Kaely’s story in hopes that no other family has to experience this heartbreak. They speak at several events, including school outreach and law enforcement recognition events. In fact, Kaely’s sister, Bree Ann, changed her major to communications because she is so passionate about sharing her sister’s story and doing everything she can to put an end to drunk driving.
“We were just beginning to realize how similar we were to one another,” Kaely’s sister Bree Ann says. “I will never see Kaely in this world again... because a drunk driver took her from me.”
Both Kaely’s mother, Angie, and step-mother, Vicky, have been very successful fundraisers for the Miami Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash. And this year, “Kaely’s Wingmen” was the top fundraising team at the event, raising nearly $9,000 in Kaely’s honor.
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.”