A daughter’s tribute of love to her father.
By Jenny Reyes
Walter Reyes was killed by a drunk driver on Jan. 21, 2015
For the last five years of his life, my father, Walter Reyes, rose at 4 a.m. each day to cycle a popular route that connects our home in Miami to the Florida Keys. He’d be back by 6, in time to say good morning and get ready for his job as an accountant at a real estate firm .
My dad’s own father had died at age 50 of a heart condition. My dad took up biking because he didn’t want the same thing to happen to him. I remember my dad saying when he turned 51 that he’d outlived his father. My dad would never see another birthday.
A 21-year-old college student who had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana struck my father and his friend as they biked across the Rickenbacker Causeway on the morning of Jan. 21, 2015. I was 19 at the time. My sister, Natalie, who was away at college, was 21.
I was at home waiting on a ride to class when my mom called me on my cell phone. She asked me where I was. When I told her I was about to leave for school, she told me I couldn’t go. That was the first indication that something was wrong. My parents always made us go to school, sometimes even when we were sick. I asked her why, and she told me my dad had been in an accident. Today, I use the word ‘crash.’
The Reyes family before a drunk driver killed Walter Reyes and changed their lives forever.
When I asked her if my dad was OK, she answered with a sob: “No, baby. He’s dead.” I’ll never forget the sound that came out of me. It sounded like an animal. Like something dying. I ran into the family room, where I started grabbing at family photos. All I could say was, “Are you sure?” Over and over again.
She assured me it was true before she had to hang up, promising to be home as soon as she could. Just then, my maternal grandfather, my abuelo, pulled up. I ran outside, still screaming. Eventually, he understood what I was trying to say. My father was dead. I collapsed in my grandfather’s arms and he pulled me into the house, where we turned on the TV. The crash was already on the news. There was his photo, his name. You see this stuff on the news all the time, but let me tell you it’s a whole different story to see a loved one on TV. A news helicopter was on scene, and the camera panned out to a wide aerial view. There was his bike, the one that had been in the garage just that morning, now mangled, the light still flashing. And there was a tarp with a body under it. My father’s body. It became all the more real in that moment.
My father’s death changed everything. I couldn’t concentrate so I took a break from school. My father was the fourth person to die on Rickenbacker Causeway in as many years, so his death received a lot of press, and I became my family’s spokesperson. My father had been loving and well-loved. Once, when a family friend who lived a couple of blocks away mentioned she was looking for a playground for her young daughter, he offered to give her ours since we no longer used it. She politely declined; she was looking for a Victorian-style playground. A couple of weeks later, she heard a noise outside. My dad had redone the playground in a Victorian style and was putting it in their backyard. That’s the kind of man he was.
Both my dad and I suffered from insomnia, and often he would join me in the kitchen in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. After chastising me for being up so late, we’d sit around and talk about our day and things going on in our lives. For three months after his death, I sat in the kitchen, waiting for him to come in. My head told me it was illogical. But my heart kept thinking if I waited just five more minutes, he’d walk in.
My parents had always instilled in my sister and me how important it is to never drink and drive. They didn’t just tell us. They showed us. Between my dad and mom, one of them was always the designated driver. Even though I knew drunk drivers killed people, in my child’s mind, in my happy bubble, I didn’t think that applied to me. Then it did. It was something 100 percent preventable. And it took my father’s life.
If one person does it, everyone is at risk. One driver out there could plow into that family and that family is being so careful and they could be dead anyway. One of the things I tell people is that often you don’t get caught the first time you drive drunk. But the sad truth is that you could drive drunk once, twice, 100 times, 1,000 times and never get caught. You can be lucky 1,000 times. But you only need to be unlucky once to change your life and to create this rolling ball of death and destruction.
One of my greatest fears after losing my dad was that I would start to forget. My greatest fear is coming true. In four years, I forgot his laugh. Those deep, belly laughs that are so hard you laugh with them. I can no longer remember what it sounds like. I can picture it in my head but I can’t hear it. My mother found a recording of my dad talking recently. When I heard it, I cried, because I realized I was forgetting his voice as well – that quirk where he’d clear his throat when he talked. I wonder what else I am going to forget 10 years down the road, 15 years down the road.
When I get married, he’s not going to be there. When I graduate college, he’s not going to be there. There will be no father-daughter dance. When I have kids, he’s not going to be there. My dad used to talk about his father all the time, and I never really understood why he was so desperate for us to hear his stories. Until I lost my father. This is what fuels me to tell my story. I don’t want anyone else to go through what I have to go through for the rest of my life.
Despite the Distractions, Impaired Driving Enforcement Must Remain A High Priority
By Steven R. Casstevens, Chief of Police
Buffalo Grove Police Department, Buffalo Grove, IL
President, International Association of Chiefs of Police
Law enforcement agencies throughout the country are faced with personnel shortages and reduced budgets often limiting their ability to combat impaired driving. COVID-19 and the recent civil unrest incidents have added to these limitations. Yet during these difficult and trying times, impaired driving traffic fatalities, which were once on the decline, are increasing in many jurisdictions.
Impaired driving has a profound impact on society and public safety. It claims the lives of innocent victims, costing millions of dollars in property damage, medical care, and criminal justice expenditures. Despite an overall decrease in alcohol-impaired driving fatalities since the 1980’s, over 10,000 people die in alcohol-related driving crashes annually (NHTSA, December 2019). Addressing impaired driving must continue to be a priority despite the hinderances and distractions faced by law enforcement today.
In the past several decades, awareness of the dangers of alcohol-impaired driving has increased. Public and private entities have focused on the drinking and driving safety issues helping change social perceptions. Plus, important legislative actions have been enacted to help in reducing it. Yet, nearly one in three of all roadway deaths still involves an alcohol-impaired driver, proving that more work is needed. However, in today’s world, impaired driving includes a multitude of other impairing substances and not just alcohol. Because of this, law enforcement leaders should endorse and support the use of electronic search warrants (e-warrants) for blood draws for impaired driving arrests, especially when multi-substances are suspected.
E-warrants, along with drug recognition experts (DREs) are two effective tools in aiding law enforcement in obtaining impaired driving evidence, especially in drugged driving cases. Our understanding of how many drivers are operating vehicles while under the influence of multiple impairing substances remains unclear. This is partially because DUI is the only crime where officers typically end their investigation once minimal evidence is obtained. Meaning if a breath test of .08 or more is obtained, most officers do not pursue a blood test, even if other drugs may be suspected. From a law enforcement perspective, one of the primary impaired driving arrest challenges is obtaining a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or evidence of drug use. If the suspect refuses a breath test, or if the officer thinks there may be drug impairment and the suspect refuses a blood or urine test, the officer is often left with limited evidence unless a warrant can be obtained quickly.
In times of reduced budgets, fewer officers, and other distractions taking time from traffic enforcement, effective strategies and streamlined approaches are needed to address the impaired driving problem. Besides saving lives and making our communities safer, a primary goal of impaired driving enforcement is to raise the public’s perception that if they drive while impaired, they will be stopped and arrested. This can be achieved by improving officer detection of alcohol and/or other drug impairment. Police leaders should ensure that their patrol officers are regularly updated in the Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST) training, and strongly consider Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training, especially with the increased drug involvement in motor vehicle crashes. To assist states in expanding ARIDE and DRE training, the IACP is offering funding opportunities through the Drug Impaired Driving Training (DIDET) program. Additional information regarding this funding is available at https://www.theiacp.org/projects/did-enforcement-training.
Law enforcement should also consider collecting and distributing statistical information regarding locations and times that most commonly generate impaired driving related crashes. In times of limited resources, directed patrol strategies can greatly assist in reducing impaired driving incidents. In addition, successful strategies involve implementing strong partnerships, because law enforcement alone is rarely effective in reducing or eliminating the impaired driving problem. Police leaders should not limit their efforts to considering what their officers can do. Instead, it is important to also consider what other community stakeholders, such as education, prevention, private businesses, and others can do with their officers in contributing to reducing impaired driving, especially during times of limited resources and distractions.
July MADD Officer of the Month First Sergeant Tracy Mance Albany County Sheriff’s Office – New York
First Sergeant, Tracy Mance has been an officer with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office for 19.5 years and was appointed the Albany County Stop DWI Administrator. Since 1981, the Albany County STOP-DWI Program has served to educate the community regarding the dangers of impaired driving and provide funding to groups and organizations engaged in activities which support our mission to reduce alcohol and drug related crashes in Albany County
She patrolled the streets of Albany for 12 years. She does a wide range of community policing and prevention efforts and programs. Every day, she educates and impacts the community, schools, students, parents and law enforcement. Over the years, she has coordinated many school enactments, parent presentations, and a specialized computerized Go-Cart that simulated an impaired driver.
In addition, to the many other awareness and prevention programs for the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, she coordinates a phenomenal program, along with her wonderful staff, called Choices and it is free to the public. Choices is an educational program that brings awareness about targeting impaired driving, distracted driving, and many other dangers that people are faced with the growing trends in unsafe choices. First Sergeant Mance was recently presented with the Ray Thorpe Award by the New York State Association of Traffic Safety Boards for her work with the Choices program.
She is innovative with the visuals located throughout the building where Choices is held. Some of the displays are from items from the actual crashes from the victim’s families that have given permission to be shared on this site. The participants have the opportunity to go around the room and discuss amongst themselves or to ask Tracy questions.
Each time she does a presentation, she carefully orchestrates an assortment of speakers whose lives have been impacted by either their own choice, or by the hands of someone else, aimed at the specific audience. The 3-hour presentation is engaging, free from judgment and participants are allowed to ask, or make comments throughout. When the presentation concludes, most of the participants have developed some compassion and empathy. Most importantly, after each event she oversees, First Sergeant Tracy Mance provides all the participants with the knowledge and awareness of prevention, and that one bad choice can severely impact others.
MADD proudly selects First Sergeant Tracy Mance as the July Officer of the Month. Thanks to MADD-New York for nominating her for this recognition.
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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Sergeant Corey Pendergrass died after contracting COVID-19 while on duty on June 13th, 2020. Sergeant Pendergrass had served with the Lauderhill Police Department for 20 years and had previously served with... Read more »
Master Sergeant Henry Turner died after contracting COVID-19 during an outbreak among staff and inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. Sergeant Turner had served with the Louisiana Department of... Read more »
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Border Patrol Agent Agustin Aguilar died after contracting COVID-19 in a presumed exposure while on duty. Agent Aguilar had served with the United States Border Patrol for 19 years and was... Read more »
Trooper Caleb Starr succumbed to injuries sustained three weeks earlier when his vehicle was struck head-on by an intoxicated driver in Ionia County. He was traveling west on Grand River Avenue,... Read more »
Investigator Donald Sumner died after contracting COVID-19 during an outbreak among staff and patients at the facility. Investigator Sumner was a U.S. Air Force veteran and had served with the Patton... Read more »
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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.