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Why We’re Here: Mary Irwin

On July 17, 1996, 13-year-old Mary Irwin spent the summer day playing with her best friends, Jesse and Jodi. When it was time for Mary to go home that evening, Jesse and Jodi’s older sister Tracey offered to drive her. So they all piled into their parents van.

On their way, they made a quick stop for snow cones. And after deciding what flavor to get, they hopped back in the van to head home. The next thing Mary remembers is sharp pain, sirens, and panic.

A drunk driver with a BAC almost three times the legal limithad sped across the center line and hit their car head on. Mary, Jesse, and Jodi were severely injured. And Tracey, who was driving the van, died before she made it to the hospital.

A stop for frozen treats on a warm summer night ended in hospital stays and a funeral, and changed many lives forever.

Mary was forced to grow up with the physical and mental scars of the crash – the scar on her face reminders her every day of that tragic night. She still experiences anxiety driving, especially at night.

Now, Mary volunteers with her local MADD office to help save lives. She volunteers at several victim impact panels each month, sharing her story to save lives. She also participants in vigils and monthly support groups to help provide the much needed support for other victims and survivors during their healing journey. She also supports MADD Missouri at their fundraising events, and is a team captain for “Team Tracy” at the St. Louis Walk Like MADD.

Mary works to help make sure no other children have to grow up living with the life-changing consequences of someone else’s choice to drink and drive. So that they can go get snow cones on a summer night without putting their lives in danger.


Why We’re Here: Krystal Foster

On December 17, 2004, Krystal Foster’s husband Chris and daughter Raven picked her up from work at 10:30 p.m. Thirteen minutes later, they were hit by an underage drunk driver.

The driver was high on drugs and had a BAC that was twice the legal limit. He was driving the wrong way on the freeway at 110 miles per hour – and hit their car head on. Krystal was not expected to live through the night. She was in a coma for the next 30 days. It was only after she awoke that she found out what happened...

Christopher, the love of her life, died on the way to the hospital. Krystal was still in a coma when they held his funeral.

Krystal’s daughter Raven suffered traumatic brain injury and shock. At only five years old, she saw her step-dad die in front of her and her mother critically injured.  Krystal was also pregnant at the time of the crash, but the impact caused a miscarriage.

“When I woke up 30 days later to find out my husband was gone, I lost our child and my daughter had been hurt and without me or her step-dad, I was inconsolable,” Krystal said.

When Krystal woke up from the coma, she received the care package from MADD along with a “We Care Card.” “It was really a huge blessing to me,” Krystal says.

Krystal’s life was totally changed forever that night. And in the last 10 years since the crash, Krystal has received continued support from MADD to help deal with those changes. She has used MADD’s online victim services tools to connect with other victims and survivors. She found guidance to help her deal with survivor’s guilt and cope with her injury.

Krystal says that being a police dispatcher and helping victims of drunk driving crashes and working for the community, she never thought that she would be a victim. But we know that two out of three people will be involved in a drunk driving crash in their lifetime.

Krystal now volunteers with MADD Ohio and shares her story of loss and how she and her daughter Raven have defied the odds and overcame their injuries.

If you are interested in becoming a MADD volunteer to share your story or help further MADD’s mission, you can learn more or sign up at madd.org/volunteer.


Why We’re Here: Ryan Smith

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.

Click here to see Ryan’s tribute page where you can leave a comment or make a donation in his honor.


Why We’re Here: Kaely Camacho

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.


#TributeTuesday: Alejandra De La Garza

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


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