On June 1, 2000 in Miami, Florida, 16-year-old Helen Marie Witty – known as H.M. to her friends and family – decided to take advantage of the sunny afternoon and go rollerblading. She was on a designated bike path when she was hit and killed by a 17-year-old drunk driver. Helen Marie died instantly.
The driver spent the afternoon binge drinking and smoking marijuana at a friend's house, before she left in a hurry, heading home in time to get money from her parents before they left town on a trip. She was traveling 60 mph in a 30 mph speed zone and lost control of the car. Her blood-alcohol level was 0.09 at the scene of the crash.
She was sentenced to 6 years with 10 years’ probation, and was ordered to speak to students while incarcerated. After her release from prison, she was deported.
Helen Marie was a straight-A student, vice president of her class and belonged to three honor societies. She was passionate about theater and dreamed of Broadway. She was planning to direct the opening night of a school play the following night. Her tragic death devastated the community.
Helen Marie’s mother, also named Helen, says that after the crash, life became instantly incomprehensible. The emotions were physical and too painful to describe. But she found a way to manage her grief with the help of faithful friends, through therapy and volunteering with MADD. After 10 years as a volunteer, she is now a full-time program specialist for MADD Miami Dade County.
Nearly fourteen years later, Helen Marie’s loved ones still gather each year for the Miami Walk Like MADD to celebrate her life and honor her memory. This past February, Helen Marie’s Hikers was one of the top fundraising teams.
|Helen Marie and her mom Helen|
Alexis Schooley and several friends were celebrating her 17th birthday at the home of a teenager whose father was out of town. But early in the morning on Sunday, March 6, 2011, a fire broke out while Alexis and several others were sleeping.
Alexis and five others were unable to escape and were killed in the fire. Hood County officials confirmed that the use of alcohol "may have contributed to the inability of the victims to escape."
Alexis was an extremely fun, funny, smart, creative and loving person. She loved people, loved to have a good time, to dance, sing, act, draw, design clothes, photography, and loved animals. The consequences of this tragedy were the losses of her life, dreams, and future. There would be no high school or college graduations, no first car or house. No first love, no wedding, and no children for her.
Alexis’s mother, Tiffany Ryan, thought her daughter was at a sleep over. She talks about what she wishes she would have done differently that night, “I wish I would have followed up on the dad's phone number that I requested before she left for the sleepover. I could have argued with her longer when she called that she come home Saturday night, like I had instructed Friday when she left.”
There were no criminal charges filed, because the fire was considered an accident. But after it was over, Tiffany knew she had to do something — something to give herself some sense of purpose and a little bit of peace. Having been a member of SADD, (then called Students Against Drunk Driving) in high school, one of the places she thought to reach out to for help was MADD.
So Tiffany called MADD’s National Victim Services Help Line (877-MADD-HELP) and was referred to a local North Texas victim advocate who was there to support her. The advocate wrote a letter to the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) on Tiffany’s behalf. Although it was difficult waiting for something to happen, the advocate stayed in touch with Tiffany, assuring her that being patient would pay off. The advocate continued to follow up with the TABC. About a year later, the store’s license was revoked and their doors closed.
Tiffany says, “I hope my story makes one or two kids think twice about their actions and understand that no one is fireproof or bulletproof — that one bad choice can affect you and those who love you forever.”
Alexis’s story is just another tragic example of how drunk driving isn’t the only danger of underage drinking. In fact, over two-thirds of all deaths associated with underage drinking are not on the roadways—they're things like homicides, suicides, alcohol poisonings, falls, drownings, burns and other causes of deaths. Parents who talk with their kids about drunk driving, but not about waiting until 21 to drink at all, are missing an important step in keeping their kids safe.
Parental influence is the most important factor in helping keep teens safe—that’s why MADD launched the Power of Parents program, sponsored by Nationwide Insurance. The goal of Power of Parents is to educate parents and caregivers about the dangers of underage drinking, and give them the tools they need to talk with their kids about alcohol. In addition, we’ve designated April 21st as PowerTalk 21 day—the national day for parents to talk with their kids about alcohol. In preparation for PowerTalk21, download the parent handbook for tips and tools to help you start this lifesaving conversation. You can find additional resources at madd.org/powertalk21.