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 step-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|
On December 19, 2008, 11-year-old Dalynaca Watrous had friends over for a sleepover. She was excited to be on holiday break and was looking forward to Christmas.
Dalynaca’s father took her and her three friends out to look at Christmas lights. But what should have been a festive evening turned tragic when a drunk driver crossed the centerline and hit their car head on at 55 mph. Dalynaca was killed. Her father was seriously injured, spending a month in the hospital. The other three children, ages 12, 11 and 9, had broken bones and one had a nearly severed tongue.
The drunk driver was released in time for Christmas. Dalynaca’s family buried her on Christmas Eve.
Every day for three years after Dalynaca’s death, her grandmother, Gloria Polesovsky, cried. She says, “I felt like I had been gut punched. Nothing has ever hurt so much. I just wanted to fix it. I visited Dalynaca’s grave every day for two and a half years.”
Tilde Bricker, a MADD victim advocate in Ohio, provided victim services to Dalynaca’s family, helping them navigate the legal system and provide a shoulder for them to lean on during the aftermath of this tragedy.
"It's not who IS there, it's that she's NOT."
Eventually, the man who killed Dalynaca and injured her father and young friends was sentenced to 14 years in prison. But her family is left with a lifetime of grief.
“I miss her laughter, her smile, her clumsiness, and the way she would call me daddy. Not just the holidays but every day that she is not here,” said Dalynaca’s father, Dennis Wilburn.
Losing Dalynaca has stopped many of the family get-togethers they used to have. “It's not who IS there, it's that she's NOT,” Gloria says.
For the holidays, Dalyanca’s grandmother doesn’t put up outdoor decorations anymore because Dalynaca was her helper, and last year was the first Christmas since her death that they had a tree. Now, they honor Dalynaca each Christmas by decorating her grave with flowers and snowmen, and angels.
This holiday season, please keep victims like Dalynaca in mind as you celebrate with friends and loved ones. Always plan ahead with a non-drinking designated driver and remind others to do the same. And make a donation now to help MADD stop drunk driving tragedies like the one that claimed 11-year-old Dalynaca’s life. Every gift will be matched by our friends at Nationwide, dollar for dollar, up to our goal of $200,000!
|Gloria Polesovsky, Dalynaca's grandmother, with Dalynaca's photo at this year's Tie One On For Safety kick-off event in Ohio.|