By Jamie Dillon
It occurs to me that while this coming weekend signifies 21 years in one way for me, there are many of you I've never even met who are gearing up for it in another way that’s much sexier and far more fun. This is for you – for the birthday girl and boys who become women and men and turn legal drinking age this weekend. (And a little bit for me, too, I guess).
Let me start by saying this: I’m not trying to kill your can’t-wait-to-get-carded anticipation here. On the contrary, if you hang tight, you’ll see I’m trying to keep it going.
It was 21 years ago this year when my mom left for work and never came home. She planned on it – on coming home. She looked forward to the big weekend ahead. She had a car full of goodies for her grandson, a bouquet of daisies (her favorite), and the family dinner grocery list in her sweet, loopy, hard-right leaning cursive to prove it.
In bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic, another driver heading toward her somehow managed to swerve into the opposite lane and hit my mom head on.
I say somehow like it’s a mystery, but it's not.
My mom always left a little extra space between her white Subaru and the car in front of her to keep her safe. My mom died three days later. She was 54.
She was the light of my life, and I’m not at all alone when I say that.
What happened after this 36-year-old stranger spent her afternoon in a bar and drove just a few miles toward home with a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit? It was, well, a mess of ardent doctors and nurses and bad news, of judges and journalists, of crying in public and under the covers, and doing things we didn’t know how to do like pick out a top that looked light and seasonal enough for sunny springtime but could still cover the impact wounds around my mother’s neck.
The funeral coordinator said it would help keep people from being any more uncomfortable when they said their goodbyes.
When the young girl at the department store was putting the high-necked peach blouse in the bag, she asked my sister, “Is there anything else I can do for you today?” My sister said, “Can you bring my mom back? That’s what I really need you to do for me.”
We cringe and laugh a little bit about that now, but I’ve never heard a more desperate, earnest answer to an innocent question in all my life.
Our family still looks and feels different than it should. Sure, we’re a little bit stronger in some places. But when you find those bits of us, don’t forget the broken pieces right next to them. They’re there and every bit a part of us.
We learned things we never planned on learning like what a brain with no activity looks like on an MRI scan and that someone with five prior DUIs can kill a person on her next one and still only get a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
We learned that choosing a bench as a headstone is a horrible idea if the ground isn’t perfectly flat. It will always look tippy because one leg has to be longer than the other to make the top even.
But then we learned we don’t like to go up there much, anyway.
We learned my mom’s last words to the EMT who helped extricate her were, “I’m so scared.”
That was 21 years ago.
While every little essence of my mom that still remains in my heart and head flooded through me like it does every morning, I was drawn to think of someone else in my very first thoughts.
You. The one with the big birthday this weekend.
Just a smidge over two decades ago, families were starting while mine stopped. There was joy.
When my dad was holding the hand of his wife, there were people holding the hands of their loves in that same hospital. Instead of saying goodbye, they were saying hello to a new son or daughter. For the first time, they were looking at the light of their life.
They were looking at you.
I’m obviously not trying to hide where I’m going with this. Those who know me know subtlety is no more a virtue of mine than patience.
Put your ID to use to get you into the bar you always wanted to visit. Make your first liquor store purchase or add a six pack of beer to your grocery cart. Do it, if that’s what pleases you. It's literally your right.
But then do something else.
Use Uber or Lyft or a cab or a designated driver if you’re out. Stay home if you’re home. If you can plan the first part of your night, I pinky promise you will have the wherewithal to plan the last part of it. Just plan it now.
I woke up thinking of you this morning, and something tells me so many others did the same. Remember, you are the light of someone’s life, and those you spend time with are the lights in someone else’s life.
Be safe. Be silly. Be 21.
And then be 22 (I’ll be thinking of you then, too).
"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.