That morning was no different than any other morning. The air was clear and crisp as I returned home from my overnight shift as a tow truck driver. When I got home my wife, Mandy was up getting our children, Ryan (3 ½) and Kaitlyn (11 months) dressed for the day. I headed off to my second job at a tractor dealership. I worked hard. I did it for them, my family.
The day went on and the first rainfall in weeks fell in the early afternoon. The hours ticked away until quitting time. I walked outside of work to head home and was greeted by one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen. The clouds had scattered and were powered with traces of gold and a misty blue gleaming through. I stopped for a moment, snapped a picture of the sunset on my cell phone and headed home to wait for my family to return from their day’s activities. I had no way of knowing that cell phone picture would become one of my most cherished photographs. It was the last sunset my family would ever see.
Mandy called a few minutes after eight o’clock. She was on her way home from running errands and teaching a violin lesson. She had just picked up Ryan and Kaitlyn from her mother’s house and was driving home to me. She told me she would be home soon.
“Ok, I’ll see you in a little bit,” I told her and hung up the phone. It was the last time I would hear her voice. Just a few minutes later, a drunk driver blew through a stop sign hitting our family car broadside at 68 mph, instantly killing Mandy, Ryan and Kaitlyn. The force of the collision ejected the kids out of their car seats and the car.
Then the noise stopped. There was nothing but quiet. I was sitting there waiting for them to come home when I heard an accident report come in over my fire department radio. No it couldn’t be. I thought certainly that is not my family in that accident. I immediately called Mandy’s phone. There was no answer.
The things I experienced that night will be forever etched in my memory. As time has gone on I have realized that talking about my family allows who they were on this earth to continue to live on. The life they had, the love that they knew, and the way that their time here began, was spent and then how it ended, will forever have a profound effect on the people who knew and loved them. I have found hope in knowing that the lessons learned through their story go beyond age, time or distance.
I am honored and humbled now to tell their story and will continue to tell it to whoever is willing to take a moment to listen.
Chair, Traffic Safety Committee, National Sheriffs Association
Chief (ret), Choctaw OK Police Department
Past President, International Assn of Chiefs of Police
SAY THEIR NAME …
There has been so many efforts to curb impaired driving over the years – changing laws, public education, increased detection – and yet, there are still so many victims – 10,511 in 2018. Every 50 minutes another person dies as a result of an impaired driver. We must remember that every one of those victims has a name and it’s up to us to Say Their Name.
Donna Potvin was a 48-year old mother of 6 who died when her vehicle was hit head-on by an impaired driver in Midwest City, OK, in 2018. Her killer received 52 weekends in the county jail and 35-years probation. Her husband was outraged. “How is that fair to my wife? How is that fair to my six kids.” I am sure the sentence would have been different, harsher, if the killer had used a gun or knife instead of a car.
Our society has decided it’s acceptable to die in a motor vehicle crash. Today and every day over 100 people die in traffic crashes – including 29 who will die at the hands of an impaired driver – and there is no news coverage, no public outrage, and no urgency by elected officials. There will just be immense sadness and loss by those who will bury and grieve for their loved ones.
On February 3, 2020, the intoxicated driver of a pick-up truck, going 79-mph in a 25-mph zone, crossed two lanes, struck a parked vehicle and veered onto a sidewalk, where, with over 150 high school students watching, he plowed into members of the Moore OK High School cross country track team running less than a block from the school. 17-year-old senior Rachel Freeman died at the scene, 16-year old sophomore Yuidia Martinez died the following day, and 18-year-old senior Kolby Crum died 12 days later. Ashton Baza, Shiloh Hutchinson and Joseph White were injured. The driver, a multiple-time repeat DUI offender, fled the scene and was arrested a few minutes later after additional crashes. He is charged with 13 felony counts, including 3 counts of manslaughter.
It shouldn’t matter what the weapon is – but it does. This killer would have faced murder charges if he had used a gun or knife to kill these students, but, because he used a motor vehicle, the charges were manslaughter that carry a lesser sentence.
Why is it okay to die in a motor vehicle crash and why do we value the life of those killed with a gun or knife more than one killed by a motor vehicle? It’s not fair and it’s not right!
Too many people think that because a vehicle was used “it’s just an accident” – but it’s not. No one has ever died by accident in a crash. Using the word “accident” minimizes the deaths and injuries that occur in motor vehicle crashes. It’s offensive to victims and survivors.
Recently I heard a public official say that their investigation would determine the cause of the “accident”. An accident is “an unfortunate event that happens by chance or without apparent cause”, but every crash has a cause – speed, running a stop sign, reckless or impaired driving – it may be unplanned, but it’s never accidental.
It’s time to change attitudes about “accidents”. It’s also time to change attitudes about traffic crash deaths being acceptable, and it’s time to change laws that treat traffic crash victims differently than other victims of violent crime. With your help, we need to begin that change now.
We begin by never forgetting the victims – by saying their names. Today I said the names of Donna, Rachel, Yuidia, Colby, Ashton, Shiloh and Joseph.
We also need to work with legislatures to change laws to ensure that all victims of violent crime are treated equally.
We must stop using the word “accident” and work with elected officials to replace the word “accident” with the word “crash” in city ordinances and state laws.
We must continue to aggressively enforce traffic laws, remove impaired drivers from the roadways and demand that courts apply the law to provide justice for all victims.
Let me close by saying three additional names – Darlene, my first wife, and Becky, our 2-year old daughter. They died when their car was struck by a law enforcement officer in pursuit of a possible impaired driver. Our 4-year-old daughter Stacy was critically injured and miraculously survived. I was one of the officers who arrived to assist at the scene.
For me, this is personal. I ask you to join me and together, let’s … SAY THEIR NAME.
Deputy Sheriff Colby Sander – Dewey County, OK Sheriff’s Office
Dewey County is a rural county in far western Oklahoma. It’s main economic base is farming and there are miles of rural roads and several state highways within the 1,008 square miles of Dewey County.
Colby Sander began his career in law enforcement with the Dewey County Sheriff’s Office in 2016 as a Detention Officer while also attending Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford OK.
Colby received his degree and law enforcement certification upon graduation in 2017 and was transferred to law enforcement duties in 2017.
Deputy Sander has dedicated much of his patrol time every shift to the detection and apprehension of impaired drivers. He has made it his mission to protect the citizens of his county by working tirelessly to locate and arrest those who choose to drive while impaired.
Colby has excelled in this endeavor and was responsible for 70% of the impaired driving arrests made by the Dewey County Sheriff’s Office 2019.
When asked why it was so important to him, Colby replied that every DUI arrest he makes protects the innocent lives of everyone else on the road and knowing that he is saving lives by removing impaired drivers from behind the wheel, is the driving force behind his determination to make driving as safe as possible in Dewey County.
Colby and his wife Jordan live in Seiling OK, where he also farms and operates a cattle ranch when he is off-duty. And that’s part of it too, if he makes it safe for others, he makes it safe for he and his family when they drive on the roads of Dewey County also.
Strong drunk driving laws are key to saving lives. That is why we’re so grateful to our legislative partners who have championed MADD’s mission to end the No. 1 killer on our nation’s roads. It is why, each year, we honor lawmakers whose outstanding work has put us closer to a future of No More Victims.
These are MADD’s 2019 legislative heroes in Congress:
The RIDE and HALT Acts introduced in 2019 would require alcohol detection technology in all new vehicles.
Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan introduced legislation to require drunk driving prevention technology in all new vehicles days after the Jan. 6, 2019 drunk driving crash claimed the lives of an entire Northville family. Dingell proposed a more wide-ranging measure in September. The Honoring the Abbas Family Legacy to Terminate (HALT) Drunk Driving Act requires federal regulatory action by 2024 to install drunk driving prevention technology in all new vehicles. The HALT Act is named for the five members of the Abbas family killed in this unthinkable tragedy: Issam and Rima Abbas and their three children, Ali, 13, Isabella, 12, and Giselle, 7. Thanks to Rep. Dingell’s leadership and tenacity on this issue, there is now momentum behind taking action to require life-saving systems in all vehicles.
MADD meets with Rep. Nita Lowey, a 2019 MADD legislative champion for her work to end drunk driving.
Representative Nita Lowey of New York has worked for decades to end the 100 percent preventable crime of drunk driving. Throughout her career, she has been a genuine force in this ongoing fight, including championing the successful effort to establish a national standard of .08 BAC, which has saved thousands of lives. Recently, Rep. Lowey proposed legislation to encourage more states to pass laws requiring ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders. Thirty-four states, including New York, currently have these laws, which have prevented more than 3 million attempts to drive drunk in the last 12 years. Additionally, through her position as Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Lowey has worked to accelerate the development of in-vehicle technologies to prevent a drunk driver from operating a vehicle.
Senator Rick Scott of Florida introduced a bipartisan measure in October that could ultimately end drunk driving in America. The Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone (RIDE) Act by Sens. Scott and Tom Udall of New Mexico would require the installation of passive advanced drunk driving prevention technology in all new vehicles within four years. This technology would prevent a drunk driver from operating a vehicle and save 7,000 lives a year. Sen. Scott is also a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which is responsible for motor vehicle and highway safety programs and legislation. He has quickly emerged as a national legislative leader in the fight to eliminate drunk driving.
MADD has recognized Rep. Jan Schakowsky for a lifetime of work to end drunk driving.
Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois chaired a March 2019 hearing of the Consumer Protection Subcommittee that focused on the government-auto industry research program supported primarily by government funds for more than a decade. At that hearing, MADD National President Helen Witty challenged the auto industry to move drunk driving prevention technology development out of the research labs and make it available to consumers as soon as possible, where it could save as many as 7,000 lives a year. Rep. Schakowsky is committed to motor vehicle safety and a true advocate in the fight to end drunk driving.
Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico has consistently taken a leadership role in the fight to reduce drunk driving, including leading efforts to provide funding for a research program to develop a passive system for preventing a drunk driver from operating a vehicle. Now Senator Udall is working with Senator Scott of Florida on bipartisan legislation that would take the results of that research out of the laboratory and make the technology standard equipment in all new vehicles, like many other life-saving safety systems. The Reduce Impaired Driving for Everyone (RIDE) Act has the potential to save 7,000 lives a year and will add to Senator Udall’s legacy of advancing meaningful measures to save lives and prevent injuries.
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The State of Recruitment: A Crisis for Law Enforcement
Law enforcement agencies across the United States are struggling to recruit and hire police officers. Though agency-specific needs exist depending on size or locale, the difficulty with recruitment is a significant problem that is broadly affecting the field of law enforcement. This IACP resource provides an overview of recruitment by the numbers, discusses the factors driving the recruitment crisis and the impact on the profession, and identifies innovative approaches to recruitment. View the resource here.
MADD’s recently released Marijuana Survey Report on
Misconceptions about Marijuana Consumption and Driving
MADD’s 2020 Court Monitoring Report was recently released and can be found at this link. Of interest, nationally, the conviction rate is only 59% in the 15 states where MADD currently has court monitors. The report also lists state by state reports.
MADD National Law Enforcement Impaired Driving Summit Final Report
In November of 2018, MADD hosted a National Law Enforcement Impaired Driving Summit. Executive level law enforcement officers attended and discussed and identified barriers to strong impaired driving enforcement. This link will take you to the final report for the Summit which identifies those barriers and offers solutions to improve enforcement.