This is a short story about the life and untimely death of a son and a sailor named Paul Anthony Brittingham …
Paul was born on July 30th 1987. He was our first born son. Paul grew up in a very loving Christian home with a younger brother named Heath. He was a very outgoing and loving child that made friends very easily. That loving child grew into a man in what seemed to be an instant--to know him was to love him.
He joined the Navy in January 2008 and graduated boot camp in March. After graduation he was stationed at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Pensacola Florida. He was studying to be an Air Frame Mechanic. We were overjoyed with his career decision and that he was so close to home. He became his class leader and was a very proud Navy Man! He exuded pride and confidence. But that was to be short lived.
On Friday September 19, 2008, the Sailors were given liberty, and Paul’s fiancé went to the base to pick him up for a weekend with her and our family. They made a stop at Wal-Mart and bought a movie and were headed to the beach that night. They were 1.5 miles from Wal-Mart when they were struck by a drunk driver. Paul was killed instantly, and his fiancé sustained several injuries. The driver of the other vehicle died on the way to the hospital. He was found to be 3.5 times the legal limit.
That day many lives were forever changed. We lost a son, and though his fiancé has recovered from the physical wounds, she still struggles with the emotional trauma. That day we all had to begin a new journey, a journey without Paul. His hugs, his infectious smile and his presence were ripped from our world.
The journey we are on now includes sharing Paul’s story as often as we can with others. We speak for schools, law enforcement, company safety meetings, military stand downs and at churches. We speak anywhere we can to bring awareness to all that the decision to drink and drive has real consequences, life changing consequences. And we speak to tell them that this is preventable!
Paul received full Military Honors and was revered by several of his shipmates and instructors. Paul’s memory will forever be with us …until the day that we join him in heaven.
Terry and Alisa Brittingham
By Kelli Donlen
Three days after turning 15, Zachary Gonzalez was killed by a drugged driver while riding his bike with friends. The driver was found to have valium and cocaine in his system and had five cocaine pipes in his vehicle that all tested positive. His only concern following the crash was getting his “oxys” (OxyContin) out of his car.
Kelli Donlen, Zachary’s aunt and legal guardian, was notified of the crash by the police and told Zachary was killed on scene. They were not allowed to go to the site of the crash and struggled because they were never able to confirm for themselves that it was indeed Zachary. Kelli said she wanted to believe it was a mistake if she didn’t see her nephew for herself. It was Zachary’s friend who confirmed for her that it was indeed Zachary.
Shortly after, Kelli learned that the cause of the crash was placed on Zachary because he and his friends were riding their bikes on a non-pedestrian road. The impaired driver was charged with a DUI and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was sentenced from one to six months in jail and was released on probation after only serving one month. Since his release, he has since been arrested for being drunk in someone else’s car and plead to Disorderly Practice; however, it was not a violation of his parole.
Kelli and her husband, who is the brother to Zachary’s mother, obtained custody of him at the age of 9. Kelli shared Zachary’s father was killed by a substance impaired driver when Zachary was three years old. When Zachary was 9 years old, his mother passed away from leukemia and since that time, Kelli described Zachary as quiet and keeping to himself, trying to make sense of all his losses. Shortly before turning 15, he was beginning to come out of his shell and enjoying life again. For his 15th birthday the family took a trip to Disney World and Kelli said they had a wonderful time. They returned home on Saturday evening and it was the next day, Sunday, January 19, 2014 that Zachary was killed.
The tears and heartache still have not gone away for Kelli, they never will. She struggles with the fact that the man who killed Zachary never should have been driving. She struggles with never having the chance to say goodbye. She does her best to remember all the good times with Zachary but finds herself always thinking of the “firsts” that Zachary will never experience such as prom, graduation, college, driving, marriage and having children. She tries to stay busy and loves talking about Zachary with others. Zachary was active on the wrestling team at his school and the family founded The Zachary Gonzalez Scholarship Program in his honor. Every year they will give out two, $1000 scholarships to students on the wrestling team. They gave out their first two scholarships this past April and plan to do so for as long as they can. The family also participated in their first WALK Like MADD event on September 19th in Philadelphia. Their team, Team Zach, had over 30 members and raised over $1000. Kelli is also working with Representative John Galloway on House Bill #1076 in Zach’s honor that asks for heavier charges in substance impaired crashes when a death of injury occurs. Kelli said she will never stop advocating for stiffer laws and honoring Zachary’s life by telling others about him.