A mother’s grief and loss, turns to a passion to end drunk driving.
By: Ava Fontenot
My 25year old son Lindsey and his 21year old friend Raymond were killed by a drunk driver on July 2, 2010.
Raymond had called Lindsey to go out that night and Lindsey said he would but told Raymond he did not want to drink as he had to be at work for 7:00 in the morning. Whenever Lindsey and his friends went out they always made sure there would be a non -drinking designated driver with them. The friends that hung out with them said they had a good time drinking coke and laughing with their friends that night. The cameras at the club they were in shows them leaving at two a.m. Their friends said they were cutting up laughing with each other on the walk to Raymond’s truck. Upon reaching the truck they told their friends goodbye and neither one realized they had approximately 8 minutes left to live.
The phone call came at 2: 23 a.m. on Friday, July 2, 2010. There has been a car crash, a female voice on the other end said, and Lindsey did not make it. Lindsey, my 25-year-old son, who loved life and lived it big, who had a bright future – a fiancée, good friends and a great job did not make it? I struggled to make sense of the words, asking her to repeat several times those words that just could not be true. I remember telling her that she was wrong, to stay there, that I was on my way. As a parent I knew I could fix this. I knew all I had to do was get there and find Lindsey and tell them all he was fine they had the wrong person.
Just a few minutes earlier, at 2:11, I had awoken startled from a sound sleep. Glancing at the clock, I listened intently to the silence and wondered what had caused my abrupt consciousness before drifting back to sleep. In hindsight, I think that was the moment that Lindsey’s soul left this earth.
My heart racing from the phone call, I hurriedly threw clothes on and upon opening the bedroom door, saw Lindsey’s finance Jessica, standing there. She had received a call and rushed over, knowing that Mike, my husband, was working offshore, that I was home alone. I kept telling Jessica that we had to go to the crash site to tell them that they were wrong, that it was not our Lindsey in that crash. It could not be him. As we were leaving the house, my daughter Lauren and her finance Jeremiah arrived, and without hesitation, got in my car to drive us to the site. During that numb seemingly hours long 10-minute ride to the crash site, I kept asking if anyone tried calling Lindsey’s cell phone and Jessica just kept saying yes, that he was not answering his phone. Well just get me there so I can tell them they are all wrong, I kept saying. I remember looking over at Jessica sitting next to me in the back seat. She just looked like someone had just sucked all the life out of her. Because her life as she knew it a few hours before when she went to sleep was now over. All her hopes, plans and dreams with Lindsey were now gone. My daughter just sat quietly in the front seat praying that her only sibling, the big brother she looked up to and admired would be found safe.
Once there, the scene looked like a high school football game had just let out. There were kids and cars everywhere. The state trooper would not allow us close to the scene. He then asked me who I was, and I said I am Lindsey’s mom. With a serious but concerned voice he looked at me and said your son has been involved in a fatal crash. Looking at him in desperation, I asked how he was so sure that it was Lindsey. He simply replied that Lindsey had his driver’s license with him. I quickly looked around for Lindsey and Raymond and not seeing either the undeniable truth was starting to sink in.
Those hard words confirmed that it was indeed our Lindsey. My daughter kept trying to get me to leave. But what she didn’t understand was that’s where Lindsey took his last breath and I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Lindsey, and his best friend Raymond, were killed instantly in the car crash. The coroner explained to me that Lindsey’s injuries were so bad that we would have to have a closed casket funeral. He also stated that Raymond was partially decapitated. The second vehicle involved was driven by a young man who, we later found out, had a blood alcohol content of over 2 times the legal limit. He was also killed, cut in half by the impact. Lindsey and Raymond both chose not to drink that night. This was later confirmed there was no alcohol in either’s bloodstream.
Our lives were forever changed by a senseless deliberate act of drunk driving.
Even in my shock, I knew that once home, there were hard phone calls to make, the first one to Mike’s company to request they arrange to have a trusted co-worker be with him to break the news and accompany him on the terrible trip home.
My second call would be to my 83-year-old mother who worshiped Lindsey. Lindsey was her grandson that she counted on for everything. Whenever she needed something Lindsey was her go to and I had to call her and break her heart.
After my husband got home we knew funeral arrangements needed to be made. It was the fourth of July weekend and we could not lay Lindsey out until the following Monday. On that Monday morning I told my husband we had forgotten to order prayer cards and that I would go to the funeral home and order them. After ordering them the coroner asked me if I wanted to spend some time with Lindsey as he knew the casket would be closed. I said yes as I needed to see him. He led me to a room where Lindsey was on a stretcher covered with a sheet from his feet to his neck. I walked over to him he had a brush burn over his left eye but other than that his face was perfect he was still the handsome young man I had raised. As I stood there staring at him I noticed that he had blood in both ears and that his skull was cracked from behind his ear all the way around to the back of his neck. I remember I put my hands on his face and he was so cold, I thought if I could just warm him up maybe he would be alright, maybe he would take a breath. So, I put my hands on his chest and I hugged him, then I asked God please God just give him back, just give him back. He is only 25, take me but just give him back. But Lindsey did not move, he didn’t get warm and he didn’t take a breath. I kissed him goodbye and told him that I loved him. I told him I would take care of his dad, his sister and Jessica and that we would all be fine. But we are not fine, we miss Lindsey every single second of every day. Lindsey and Raymond died that night because one person made a choice.
A few weeks later after returning to work and trying to create a new normal without Lindsey in it. One evening at home I sat down at my computer and looked up MADD. I knew what they stood for, but I did not know what they actually did to fulfill their mission. While searching the MADD website I came across a program called Victim Impact Panel (VIP). This program allows victims/survivors of impaired driving crashes to share their stories with DWI/DUI offenders. By reliving their nightmares with offenders, they hope to change the attitude and mind set and bring them into their shattered lives because of one person’s bad decision. Knowing how Lindsey never met a stranger I knew I had found my way of continuing Lindsey’s legacy. I now work with law enforcement and do VIP panels in my hometown and surrounding cities. High schools and other preventive programs in my area also call me to speak. In each class I hope to reach at least one person and show them what the other side of a DUI looks like. Many offenders tell me that my story has changed their outlook on drinking and driving and they will always remember Lindsey and Raymond. I know I am making a difference and saving lives one person at a time.
Anyone that is 21 years or older has a legal right to consume alcohol. But they also owe it to themselves and others to make a plan before they start drinking. The most important plan they are going to make that day. The plan on how they are going to get home safely. Are they going to have a designated driver, call a cab, or simply call a friend or family member to come and pick them up. Such a simple plan can help save so many lives. Drinking and driving is a choice and it is 100% preventable. No one should ever lose their life because of one person’s bad decision.
Law enforcement officers do their best to catch offenders and hold them accountable to keep our roadways safe. Thank you to these underappreciated individuals that go above and beyond daily to keep civility in our communities. Thank you for the tons of paperwork written to file one report. Thank you for choosing a career that is highly underpaid for the responsibility placed on you daily. Although your work may seem to go unnoticed, believe me, you are appreciated beyond words by so many. Defund the people that are trying to keep us safe? That is the craziest thing I have ever heard of. It is our duty to ourselves and others to support our officers and work with them towards a safer tomorrow.
My relationship with MADD started in the early morning hours shortly after midnight on a hot Central Florida summer night in the early nineties. I was a rookie State Troop working a serious crash where a couple had been killed after being hit head on by an impaired driver. I cleared the scene and headed to the address on the victim’s driver license, not really sure who would be there as it was obvious to me that this couple was married. It dawned on me as I pulled into their driveway and I could see little faces looking through the drapes, that their children were waiting for them to return home, and I was there to give them the worst news they would ever hear. I was looking at three orphans due to an impaired driver. A MADD volunteer from the local chapter came to my rescue, and the aid of these children and their grandparents who were now their legal guardians. More on this later ….
MADD has always recognized that law enforcement is the foundation to our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving. They are the first line of defense, boots on the ground, who give of their time, talents, and in some cases, their life to intercept impaired drivers. The role of a DUI unit comes with unruly people, prisoners who lose control of their faculties in the back of the patrol car, paperwork and reports that are as lengthy as a murder case, depositions on your day off, court appearances after you have worked a twelve-hour shift, and a spouse and kids at home wondering when mom or dad will be back. This cycle is repeated over and over and over and its fueled by the passion and dedication of intercepting an impaired driver before the crash occurs. Anyone can clean up a crash scene, but the real work is preventing it from happening to begin with.
MADD has a long practice, in our short forty-one years of existence, of recognizing our law enforcement heroes. Awards, dinners, and participation at DUI Checkpoints and Saturation details continue to this day, but now our recognition and support includes specialized trainings at no burden to the taxpayers here in Florida and public support that is stronger today than ever. It’s important for the officer on the street to know that when the court of public opinion is condemning them for their DUI enforcement, seen by some communities as a waste of resources, that our National brand is there to support them and their agency. We have joined them in press conferences with a show of support in the aftermath of a DUI arrest of a local politician, have spoken publicly to a City Commission looking to eliminate the DUI unit as a cost savings measure, and have provided an interview to a local news station recognizing the right decision of a Deputy who arrested his Captain for DUI. These are all real-life scenarios that MADD has been a part of. Flexing the muscle of our National brand may come with some backlash from the naysayers, but its the right thing to do. If we won’t do it, then who will?
Having spent twenty-five years in law enforcement and now the State Executive Director of MADD Florida, I have seen firsthand where MADD and our law enforcement community work in concert teaching in the schools and partnering at local community events. I have received awards from MADD back when I worked the street and now I’m humbled to be a part of the team that is handing them out. I have attended MADD dinners with my squad, and I have spent the past 11 years as the Master of Ceremonies at the MADD FL LER. I currently sit on the Florida Police Chief Association’s Highway Safety Committee, the Florida Department of Transportation’s Impaired Driving Coalition, and I am one of three former law enforcement officers here at MADD, where our past expertise is used to help shape the future in enforcement techniques, legislative changes, and best practices overall in this arena. It’s been a great ride for me, and we are just getting started! We will continue to support, recognize, and train these heroes until impaired driving is a thing of the past.
I often think about those three kids. I know they are grown adults now, but the little faces of that early morning are still fresh in my mind. Do they hate me? Are they scared every time they see an FHP cruiser? Silly little thoughts I know, but thoughts that have haunted me throughout my life just the same. The impact that death notification had on me created the DUI enforcement passion in me and lead me to MADD.
Be kind to one another, and as I said after every traffic stop, “Have a safe day in the Sunshine State”
Lieutenant Joshua Battista Goose Creek, SC Police Department
MADD National proudly selects Lieutenant Joshua Battista as our Officer of the Month for July 2021. Lieutenant Battista supervises the Traffic Unit of the Goose Creek, South Carolina Police Department. They exercise a zero-tolerance policy with regard to driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or other substances. Under his supervision, Lieutenant Battista’s team was responsible for the following statistics between July 2019 through June 2021:
Total Citations written: 13,308
Citations written for DUS for DUI: 29
Citations Written for Habitual Offender: 14
DUI Citations: 208
DUAC (Possibly from a plea bargain): 58
Felony DUI: 1
Child Endangerment: 7
Open Container: 53
Broken Seal on Legal Liquor: 26
In addition to his strong support of the work done by the offices of his Traffic Unit, Lieutenant Battista is a compassionate supporter of victims of DUI crashes.
Stacy Keller from Berkeley Community Mental Health wrote this about how often Lt. Battista has gone above and beyond to help victims of DUI. In her words, “Lt. Battista’s commitment to not only the physical, but emotional well-being of our community members gives testament to the daily compassion and empathy he demonstrates as a personal requirement to his daily work.”
The City of Goose Creek Special DUI Prosecutor states that, “Lt. Battista goes above and beyond to keep victims/and or their families informed through the legal process while also providing them outlets for services such as mental health to help address their emotional needs as well.
Lieutenant Battista received the South Carolina MADD Compassionate Hero Award in 2021.
We are proud to select Lieutenant Joshua Battista of the Goose Creek Police Department as the MADD July Officer of the Month. We thank him for his dedication to duty and his compassion for victims of impaired driving. We wish him the best in safety and wellness in the remaining years of his career and service to the citizens of South Carolina and the City of Goose Creek.
Thank you to Steven Burritt, MADD Regional Executive Director for North Carolina/South Carolina, for his nomination of Lieutenant Battista for this recognition.
MADD’s 2021 Court Monitoring Report was recently released and can be found at this link. Of interest, nationally, the conviction rate is only 63% in the 17 states where MADD currently has court monitors. The report also lists state by state reports and all can be found here. .https://www.madd.org/the-solution/drunk-driving/court-monitoring/
MADD/Ipsos Poll: Consumers Support Drunk Driving Prevention Systems in Cars
Drug Impaired Driving Enforcement Training Opportunities Available
Impaired driving is one of the most serious problems on the roads today. As more states legalize recreational and medical marijuana, more law enforcement personnel must be trained in Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and as Drug Recognition Experts (DRE). Training has proven to be an effective tool in the fight against impaired driving. Increasing the availability of ARIDE and DRE training to officers, prosecutors, and the judiciary is an important next step. Contracts will be awarded to eligible U.S. law enforcement agencies and organizations to deliver regional training. Read more.
NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts: Overview of Motor Vehicle Crashes in 2019
2021 National Lifesavers Conference Registration is Open – Registration is now open for the 2021 National Lifesavers Conference on Highway Safety Priorities, which will be held virtually. Register here >
DRE State Coordinator Best Practices Guide to Managing an Effective DEC Program – contains guidelines and recommendations for state DRE coordinators to enhance their DEC Program.
On November 12, NHTSA published a Request for Information (RFI) on available or late-stage technology under development for impaired driving detection and mitigation. The RFI’s goal is to better understand the state of emerging technologies, particularly those targeting alcohol-impaired driving. The notice requests information about the capabilities, limitations, and maturity of impaired driving technologies that are being researched, developed, or marketed.