"We will never forget what a special angel we had in Kellie. Time does not heal and broken hearts are difficult to mend.”
These are the words spoken by George and Marilyn Murphy, the parents of Kellie Murphy Wheatley.
Kellie was a person who always went above and beyond for others, and she could always brighten anyone's day. When asked how Kellie is remembered, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy replied, “Kellie's two sons, her niece, and our two great granddaughters all have so many of Kellie's mannerisms. We are blessed to see Kellie in other members of our family and that will keep Kellie's life alive in our family.”
On July 4, 1984, Kellie, 24, was hit by a drunk driver while riding bikes with her husband Orville and their 14 month-old son Christopher, who was in a carrier on the back of Orville's bike.
The family spent the day enjoying one another's company at a local park in Jacksonville, Illinois. They stopped their bikes alongside a secondary street in South Jacksonville to tuck a blanket Christopher was carrying onto his seat belt. Kellie was concerned it might get caught in the spokes of the bike. As they stood alongside of the city street, they were unaware that an intoxicated driver abruptly turned the corner. The driver hit Kellie and continued to drive down the road, not realizing he struck Kellie with his vehicle.
Kellie died instantly. Orville and Christopher were not injured, and the drunk driver spent seven months in prison for reckless homicide.
Although it has been 32 years since the crash, the Murphy family will always associate July 4th with the day Kellie lost her life because someone chose to drink and drive.
On Mother's Day weekend, 1996, Phaedra, age 22, a preschool teacher who had also done some modeling on the side, was enjoying a concert with some friends not far from her hometown. The two car loads of youth who were completely sober were driving home in Morgan County, Missouri, as a misty rain began to fall. Unbeknownst to them, a drunk driver with a .08 BAC was heading their way as he crossed the center line of Highway 5. Phaedra's friends in the car in front managed to see him in time to swerve. The drunk driver clipped them and headed straight for Phaedra's car. As he topped the hill around a curve, she had no warning and he hit her nearly head-on.
Phaedra's injuries were numerous and life-threatening. At the hospital, doctors discovered that the impact of the crash had ripped her aortic valve from her heart. Most people would have died within minutes, but Phaedra had not. In an emergency surgery to repair it, surgeons struggled to stop the bleeding. They quickly realized that she would bleed to death on the operating table if something wasn't done immediately. So, to save her life, they cut off the blood flow to her lower extremities to slow the bleeding enough to make the repairs to her heart.
She spent 3 weeks in a coma and 5 1/2 weeks on life support before waking to learn that the decision to save her life had cost her the ability to walk. In addition, she also had plates in her arm and both legs due to both ankles, a left femur, and a right forearm being broken. Her pelvis had been broken on both sides as well as 4 ribs. Both lungs had collapsed and her liver had been lacerated. Her gallbladder, appendix, and spleen were damaged and all had to be removed.
Phaedra's son was 4 years old at the time of the crash. She missed his first day of kindergarten because she was still in the hospital. As he grew up, someone else taught him to ride a bike, played in the ocean waves with him, and rode roller coasters with him while she sat on the sidelines and cheered, quietly wishing she could be the one beside him.
In 2000, Phaedra began working for MADD Missouri. She became a Victim Specialist helping other victims by providing emotional support and guidance through court proceedings. In 2010, she was crowned Ms. Wheelchair USA, again bringing awareness to the dangers of drunk driving by choosing it as her official platform. In 2012, she moved to Tennessee as the Underage Drinking Specialist for the MADD Tennessee state office. She built the program up from a presence that was non-existent to the top program in the country, talking to thousands of teens annually about the dangers of underage drinking and sharing her story with kids, parents, and DUI offenders.
Phaedra's original scars may have healed, but the impact of a DUI crash lasts for a lifetime. With no spleen, Phaedra is more susceptible to illness and her immune system is unable to fight simple infections. An ear infection can end up in a hospital stay. Independent and resolute, Phaedra drives, works full time, and is now the mother to an 8 year old daughter, as well as her grown son and step-daughter. People are amazed at how she lifts her wheelchair overhead, in and out of her car, and is not deterred from anything she sets her mind to doing. However, her determination takes its toll on her body. She recently had to have surgery on her arm because a problem with one of the plates had caused a fracture in her arm. Because she is constantly lifting her chair and transferring herself in and out of it, the injury to her arm caused a significant hardship on her ability to proceed with life as normal. And because of her immunity problem, the healing process was also complicated.
But those who know Phaedra, know that despite the lifelong affect drunk driving has had on her life, the thing that stands out most about her is her positive attitude. She never waivers. For years, she has fought to serve others who have been impacted by the crimes of drunk and drugged driving and underage drinking and to spread awareness about their dangers by sharing her story. She is an inspiration to all! And she will continue to fight until MADD fulfills it's vision of No More Victims!
By Kathy Kilgore Beeler
When one of my family members calls someone a “Cole,” it means something special.
It’s family shorthand for calling someone Compassionate, Obedient to God, Loving and Enthusiastic toward life – all such core personality traits of my handsome son Cole, who was killed while riding with a drinking driver.
Cole Hansen Kilgore was my little stinker, my only child. He was charismatic, fun-loving and always kept me on my toes. He had a sense of humor that charmed everyone around him. He was a city boy who lived in the country, so he knew how to both skateboard and skeet shoot. He was compassionate, and always tried to take care of me, even when it wasn’t his responsibility. Most importantly, he was the only person who called me “Momma.”
People gravitated towards Cole. He simply pulled people into his stratosphere, and you felt lucky to be there with him.
Cole wasn’t a perfect child. He was perfect to me, but Cole had his struggles with underage drinking and drugs. When I found out, I talked to him and moved him to a new city to be around new friends; we worked together to turn his life around. I remember speaking with him about the dangers of alcohol when he was 12 or 13 years old. I wish I had spoken to him sooner, but I never imagined alcohol would be on his radar at such an early age.
When Cole turned 19, I could tell that he was really trying to turn his life around. He was looking to start college classes and worked with a construction company in the summer. He never wanted me to worry; he repeatedly told me, “Momma, everything is okay. I’m okay.”
On June 4, 2011, Cole was still living at home, and he shouted out that he was going down the road to visit his friend and would be right back. I told him I loved him, and he yelled it back before driving two miles down the road. Just two miles…
Cole went down to a friend’s house where a group of older guys were sitting outside drinking. Even though Cole was sober, he made the choice to get into a truck with a man who had been drinking. Intoxicated, the driver recklessly drove more than 100 miles per hour before careening into a guardrail, hitting the gas tank on the driver’s side. The truck went up in flames, engulfing the driver and Cole. The driver died at the scene, but my Cole managed to pull himself out of the vehicle.
When I arrived at the hospital I saw my handsome boy with burns covering 95 percent of his body. Cole looked at me and said, “I’m sorry; it was stupid.” He knew that he had broken my heart. “Momma, I’m a burnt chicken,” he joked in typical Cole fashion, trying to make me laugh. His nickname in high school was ‘Chicken Legs.’ My sweet boy was in pain, and was put in a medically induced coma. After being life-flighted to a larger hospital, I said I love you to Cole for the last time.
In my mind, I kept thinking the doctors would save him, that somehow this great miracle would occur, and I could just switch places with him.
But my baby boy with the bluest eyes imaginable took his last breath. We stood by his side, still praying for that miracle that never arrived.
Before Cole passed away, I never thought about joining a group like MADD. That’s exactly what MADD is – a family you never knew you needed – until you suddenly need them desperately.
Today, I try to share my story to prevent this from happening to others.
This April, I’m partnering with MADD in honor of Cole. April 21st is MADD’s PowerTalk 21 Day, the national day for parents to begin ongoing conversations with their children about the dangers of alcohol, and the dangers of riding with a drinking driver. Parents, please use MADD’s Power of Parents tools and have these lifesaving conversations with your children. Download the free materials at madd.org/powertalk21.
When Hannah Rebekah Morales entered a room, it lit up, not only from her smile and personality, but from her willingness to help and inspire others. She was loved by her parents, family, teammates, friends, coaches, and really anyone she came into contact with. Hannah had a passion for sports ever since her mother could remember. Hannah’s connection to sports allowed her to travel and compete against teams across the country. Her parents found joy in watching their daughter play sports, and spent many hours traveling and cheering her on.
On December 31, 2015, Hannah went to a New Year’s Eve party with a group of friends. There was underage drinking at the party and even though people knew the driver had been drinking, they didn’t stop him from driving. At just 16 years old, Hannah was killed after being ejected from a vehicle driven by a driver with a BAC of .208, more than twice the legal limit. The driver survived the crash. He pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide, and was sentenced to 5 years of probation. Hannah’s parents were devastated by the courts decision, they believe that probation shouldn’t be an option when someone kills someone else in a drunk driving crash. They continue to remain positive in honor of Hannah but would also like to see laws change to reflect the seriousness of the crime.
Hannah had never been in trouble in the past, her parents hadn’t had a reason to worry about what she was doing that night. Anita, Hannah’s mother, wishes she would have spoken to her daughter more about underage drinking, and encourages all parents to talk to their adolescents about the possible consequences. She believes drunk driving is a selfish act that is completely preventable. She hopes that Hannah’s story will prevent others from making the same mistakes and save lives.
This week, MADD shares PowerTalk 21, a day dedicated to creating intention, ongoing, and potentially lifesaving conversations between parents and kids about alochol. Join us to learn valuable strategies for how to talk with your child or teen about not drinking and not riding with a drinking driver.
By Steve Mason
As I begin to write my thoughts about becoming a Peer Support Volunteer for MADD, the words to the song Closer To Love by recording artist Mat Kearney come to mind. The song includes these words: "I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees…”
For my family, that phone call came at 2:15 AM May 7, 2005. Our youngest son, Chris, was home from college for a three-day weekend. Three of Chris' friends from college drove to our small town that Friday evening to attend a "campfire party" where many of Chris' friends would be hanging out.
Hours later, the phone rang, and the voice at the other end of the line was very shaky...very distraught...the male voice said "Is this Chris' Dad? You need to come quickly...there's been a crash...Chris is hurt really bad.”
Once we arrived at the crash scene, we quickly discovered what might easily be called a parent’s worst nightmare. Our first glimpse of the crash scene revealed a mangled car resting upside down against a large tree. Next to the car, we saw a motionless body being attended to by EMT's, and we quickly learned it was our 20-year-old son Chris.
Chris was airlifted to a nearby trauma center, where he survived for 17 hours. However, due to the massive injuries sustained in the crash, he died at 6:54 PM, May 7, 2005. We planned his funeral the following day....Mother’s Day, 2005. We learned that two other passengers in the car had been seriously injured, and the 20-year old-driver of the car had been arrested for drunk driving.
Here's the connection between the words to the Mat Kearney song and Chris' death. During the days between his death and his funeral, our grief was overwhelming. For me, the grief caused the neurotransmitters between my brain and my legs to "short circuit.” Without warning, my legs would buckle, and I would literally fall to my knees. I am guessing other victims/survivors have had similar experiences.
In the summer of 2015, a MADD staff member asked if I would be interested in becoming a Peer Support Volunteer. This would be a new volunteer role for me, but I was not new to volunteer work with MADD. For 10 years, I had volunteered as a speaker at Victim Impact Panels, school assemblies, youth conferences, and for other organizations with an interest in preventing and eliminating drunk driving.
Once I learned a bit about the Peer Support training and what the responsibilities included, I quickly agreed to take the required training. Even though it had been ten years since Chris had been killed in an alcohol-related crash, the memories of unimaginable grief, confusion, and guilt were still quite vivid in my mind. Helping others navigate a similar journey is the goal of a Peer Support Volunteer.
Soon after I completed the peer support training, I began receiving the names and contact information for new victims of drunk/drugged driving. With each phone call, I expressed my most sincere condolences...I asked if they were getting emotional support. I asked about their deceased loved one(s). I asked what steps they were taking to find much needed continued support.
Some were understandably confused, uncertain where to turn for help. I let them know MADD would offer additional support via Victim Advocates, and I offered suggestions such as grief counseling and support groups like The Compassionate Friends. I suggested contacting their local United Way, their religious leader or perhaps a local funeral director for additional sources of assistance. I briefly shared my own experience and the struggle my family faced in learning to cope with the loss of a close loved one. I let each victim know there are many hurdles to cross, but they can survive. I let them know that no one should tell them how to grieve or that there is a time limit to grief. I let them know that I care...that MADD cares and will offer additional support.
My volunteer work on behalf of MADD and the victims it serves has been bittersweet. Learning about the needless deaths is heartbreaking, but helping others understand the dangers of drunk/drugged driving and helping others deal with their loss has helped me in my healing process, a journey that has no finish line.