By Joshua Jahn
Drunk driving victim
It was at her 8th-grade graduation that I first noticed her.…the girl who would eventually become my wife… I met Mandy and, I swear, she had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen.
And I had the honor of looking into those eyes for years, including a beautiful stretch of almost a decade when we were inseparable...
My three-year-old son Ryan was already looking forward to his birthday on Dec.29th. As a volunteer firefighter, I was so proud he talked about following in my footsteps...
Kaitlyn was that perfect baby all parents want. Childcare volunteers at church used to fight over watching her. And she was at such an inquisitive age...
The only Christmas celebration we had all together with my wife, my son and my 11-month-old daughter before drunk driving ripped them away was in 2007.
We had a fresh tree. I was so protective of sweet baby Kaitlyn. I’d run outside to warm the car if she had to go out. Mandy and I stayed up until 3 a.m. putting together a train set for Ryan, and I took a picture of him jumping for joy with his sister in the background confused about all the excitement he had because of his present on Christmas morning.
Now, I am asking you for a different type of present – one you don’t have to wrap. Will you donate today in honor of every family missing a loved one? Will you donate in honor of all victims?
I left this part until last...the part about the crash because I want to focus on my family's life, not their death.
Ten days before Thanksgiving, a woman sat at a bar drinking for SIX hours, before staggering to her car, putting the keys into the ignition, and speeding away. Her blood alcohol content was TWICE the legal limit. She hit my wife and my two children going more than 70 mph on a back road, and the force of the impact snapping a nearby telephone pole like a twig.
When the doctors asked for permission to stop resuscitation efforts on Kaitlyn, I whispered to her, “I am sorry I couldn’t protect you.” When I had to say goodbye to Ryan, I told him, "You will always be my hero."
I returned to the field to make a vow to Mandy. I told her I will move heaven and earth to bring as much meaning to their deaths as they brought to my life.
My greatest regret is the future that the repeat offender that killed my baby girl stole from me. I will never get to watch Kaitlyn graduate or make a toast at Ryan’s wedding.
These future moments, the common and uncommon ones, that’s what I miss. That’s why I work toward a future I can make happen – a future of No More Victims®.
Will you join with me in donating to MADD to prevent other families from experiencing this pain and tragedy. When you give today, Nationwide will DOUBLE your donation.
And that's a prsent that we all truly need - the end of drunk driving.
By Brandon's mother, Brenda Holden
PFC Brandon Bennett served as an enlisted soldier in the Texas Army National Guard starting in 2010, even before he graduated high school.
He is and will forever be a member of the 236th Engineer Company, 111th Engineer Battalion, 176th Engineer Brigade currently located in Lewisville, Texas. Brandon enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard just 25 days after his 17th birthday, because he had a passion for protecting others since he was a little boy. In high school at L.D. Bell, he even had the National Guard emblem on his senior class ring, which shows his determination and dedication for serving others and our country. On his landmark 18th birthday, he was at basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina doing exactly what he wanted to be doing, which was beginning a life of service.
Brandon touched so many lives during his short 20 years on this earth! To his many friends and to his family, Brandon was an extremely kind, loving, and generous soul. Whether providing safe haven for those with nowhere else to go or by simply lending a sympathetic shoulder to cry on, he always tried to do the best he could to make any situation better.
Brandon was known as a great soldier, a great "battle buddy", and an even greater friend to all he touched. His life ambition was to become a police officer, to serve the community we live in.
Since the sentence in Texas for intoxication manslaughter ranges from 2-20 years in prison, I am absolutely elated that the perpetrator received the maximum sentence of 20 years for taking the life of my son, Brandon Tyler Bennett. Even though 20 years is not nearly enough to pay for my son’s life taken, it does display some justice served for the crime.
Every day, we live with the reminders of our Brandon, especially since the crash occcured two miles from where we live in our own neighborhood. Brandon lived his entire life within an area of less than 10 miles. The elementary school, junior high school, high school, and community college are all in the same neighborhood. Memories of his childhood and young adult years are everywhere we turn; where he attended schools, played baseball/football/soccer, birthday parties, friends’ sleep-overs, and the list goes on and on. No mother or family should have to endure this much heartache and pain every day when this senseless act could have easily been prevented.
MADD was with us every step of the way during the emotional, heartbreaking journey. It was invaluable having a MADD representative present through the entire trial to not only support us, but to also to help us make sense of the proceedings.
Ultimately, drinking while intoxicated always has the potential to end tragically. There are no do-overs. Just don't do it.
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 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|
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.
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.
Learning to live again is killing me ~ Garth Brooks
Bright lights, tall trees, family, and laughter -- Such words are often associated with celebrating the holidays. As a child, I could only dream of the next time I would see a Christmas tree or gather with loved ones to open presents, bake treats, and stay up all night.
When I was six years old, the motorcycle my brother was riding on was hit by a drunk driver. He left home on a cool November night, and never returned. Instead, 5 days later, on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1982, our parents made the decision to take Hector off life support. The Holidays would never be the same again, and Thanksgiving became just another day. Our mother could not handle setting a table with an empty chair, or breaking down every time we began to talk about what we were thankful for. Year after year, we also stopped celebrating Christmas. Our traditions were lost. I remember thinking, but too afraid to say the words out loud, what about the rest of your children?
When I went away to college, 12 years later, I looked forward to coming home and baking pecan pies with my parents for Thanksgiving. Yet the memory of gathering around the dinner table, remembering my brother, is still distant. In fact, it was a topic we continued to avoid.
Thirty three years ago, our family lost its joy at the hands of a drunk driver. We did not know how to live while a piece of our heart was missing. Three decades later, we still haven’t learned to celebrate his short life. But we have chosen to honor our son, father, brother, uncle, and friend by living and by doing things that seem normal to everyone else that we couldn’t do before.
Writing about my brother Hector is my therapy and doing so helps me on my continued journey of healing and adjusting to my new normal of him not being here. It is just another way of keeping his memory alive by sharing his story that I hope helps others.
-Olga M. Hickman, Ph.D