A mother’s pain and grief lead to her passion to keep fighting to end drunk driving.

By: Michelle Ramsey-Hawkins

Khaiden and Samuel

I walked into Livingston Parish court room 2 months after the crash and I sat on the bench not knowing what to expect but I still held my head high.  A lady called for all victims and witnesses to meet her outside of the courtroom.  I reluctantly got up and went outside with my mom in tow.  She was standing there with her purse, pen, notebook and a “knowing smile”.  I initially thought she was a reporter and wanted to get as far away from her as possible.  I had had my share of reporters to last me a good while.  We checked in with the victims advocate and as I was walking off, she called my name.  I turned around and she said, “Hi Michelle, my name is Valerie Cox and I’m with MADD, that’s Mothers Against Drunk Driving.   Can I hug you?”  MADD has been a part of my life and support system ever since.

People often believe we are the writers of our own stories.  I became a mom at the age of 19.  I had to figure out how I was going to raise this little girl, take care of her and me and finish college.  To say I was scared out of my mind was an understatement.  Everything became about my daughter and making life the best I could for she and I.  Fast forward, life happened.  I married Taurean Shropshire.  He took on not only Kaylee, but my newborn son, Khaiden Michael, who was only 3 weeks old.  Unto this union came Samuel Kingston.

April 10, 2016, is the day the world stopped and when it started moving again, nothing was the same.  Not one – but two – drunk drivers changed my family’s life forever. My children — 15-year-old Kaylee, 6-year-old Khaiden, 4-year-old Samuel, and I – attended a housewarming party for Khaiden’s Godbrother and his family.  At the party, he and Khaiden were discussing his upcoming birthday and what all he wanted to do.  He and Khaiden both shared a love for video games and Khaiden wanted a gaming birthday party.  He promised him he would be there.

Samuel, aka Sam, become connected at the waist to a “cousin.”  They played together all day.  Sam loved motorcycles and one of our good friend’s husband rode his bike to the party.  He took one look at Sam and when I tell you he fell in love with the little red boy who loved motorbikes, he was in love with this baby.  Sam even managed to hustle he and “the cousin” some popsicles from the ice cream truck.  Before he left, he promised Sam, he would make sure to come and pick him up to take him riding on the bike the next weekend. At the time, we never knew, Sam would never get that motorbike ride.

It was time to leave, the kids had school and their dad was flying in that night.  He was planning to stop by to see them before heading home. As we drove home along a dark highway, Khaiden and Sam chattered away in the back seat, excited to be up past their bedtime. They had just got off the phone with their dad.  Kaylee was on the phone with her dad.

I was unaware that, up ahead, a trash compactor fell from the back of a pickup. The driver had previous DUI convictions. On this night, he was driving drunk yet again. He didn’t bother to stop to retrieve his trash compactor, which we then crashed into. I pulled to the side of the road, threw on my flashers, and got out to survey the damage.  I was low key mad because I had just purchased this car and it wasn’t even a full month old.  I sent the boys dad a text letting him know what was going on, called police, and then my parents, asking them to pick up the kids while I waited for help. I wanted the kids to be safe. People who lived in the neighborhood came out because they heard the crash and to see what happened.  They started setting up orange safety triangles to divert traffic.

I remember telling the boys to stand in the grass. Sam was telling on Khaiden because he was making spit bubbles.  Spit bubbles would have ended up as them passing licks and fighting.  I was going to fuss, but something told me “don’t fuss this time”.  I just told Khaiden not to make spit bubbles and to hold his brother’s hand.  I remember asking my daughter to help with her brothers, instructing the boys to hold hands in the grass, away from the road.

I was using the flashlight on my phone to look for the roadside assistance number on my insurance card.  I remember getting frustrated because I couldn’t find it.  After that, I remember waking up on the ground, smelling exhaust and someone telling me not to move.  I heard my daughters’ cries, but I heard nothing from my sons. I kept telling the people out there “my babies, my babies”. They were saying we have her.  I kept saying no, “my boys too.  I didn’t hear them”.  I kept listening.  I heard someone scream my oldest son’s name and the way she screamed it; I knew they were gone.  Yet, I still begged God not to take them, to send them back to me.

I later learned, the drunk driver, plowed through the safety triangles and struck a waiting car that struck me before running off the road and slamming into my children and one of the good Samaritans helping us.  The driver was running from a crash he was in further up the road.  In the ambulance, the EMT, an old high school friend, tried to keep me from hearing that my boys had died on the scene. Kaylee learned the terrible truth while watching the news from her hospital bed. The crash left her with back injuries and nerve damage to her left foot.  I had cuts, bruises, a stretched MCL and a hip injury that left me on a walker and in physical therapy. The son of the neighbors who helped us, survived being crashed into but not without being in the ICU with several life altering surgeries.  While I hate that he had to go through that, I would have given anything if that’s what would have saved my sons.  Their little bodies were crushed so badly, we couldn’t even donate their organs so that someone else could live.  Had the mortician not done the impeccable job he did, we would have had to have a closed casket service.  He had to use molding clay to reconstruct their faces.  Sam looked like a porcelain doll and Khaiden looked like he was asleep. To not be able to kiss my sons one last time, even at the private family viewing, was painful.  At the funeral, I could only cry out and beg God to please take care of them.  I must have

fainted because after my cry, I woke up on a sofa in the church.  I can only hope God heard me.  Am I the same, no, none of us would ever be the same.

For two years, I faced the men who changed not only the lives of me and my family, but the lives of their families forever.  I looked each man in the eyes as I tearfully spoke about Khaiden and Samuel.  I wanted each of them to understand that Khaiden and Samuel were not just two random little boys, but they were our son! The sons of an Army Sergeant, the grandsons of a Vietnam Veteran and Marine Veteran, the nephews of a Navy Captain, the great nephews of the 1st African American District Attorney in Clinton.

Khaiden, my child who excelled academically.  Khaiden who mastered Spanish in just 3 months and the game of chess.  He placed 2nd in the entire State of Louisiana in his 1st chess tournament at just the age of 6.  My computer genius.  He loved playing basketball and soccer.  Video games were his thing.  The week before the crash, my daughter had just taught Khaiden to ride his bike without training wheels.

Samuel, my firecracker and the littlest one of the bunch.  He had just started his academic journey.  He loved to draw and paint.  Sam had just developed a love for baseball and was excited because he could play football that year.  Sam was a one-man band and truly marched to the beat of his own drum.  He loved music and wanted to play the drums.  He had just got his own drum set.  Sam prided himself on always tucking his shirt in and wearing a belt.  You could always catch him with a wad of bubble gum in his mouth, speeding around on his spiderman motorbike or bicycle.  Both of my sons loved hanging out with family and their big sisters.   They never met a stranger.  Everyone was their cousin.  Their Dad, grandfather, uncles, and big cousins were their superheroes along with Lebron James.  These two little boys traveled more in their 4 and 6 years of life than I have in my 41 years.

After 2 years of continuing court, re-analyzing his blood samples that we later learned were 8 times over the allowed legal limit, he finally was sentenced to 19 years jail time.  The other guy only got 5 years for causing the wreck.  I later learned he could have received more time, however the evidence needed from the state troopers was not available.  Thank you Great Flood of 2016!!!! 19 years is never enough time for the two lives he took away.  I tried to look at it from a “Christian” perspective and ask myself, Michelle, WWJD, you know What Would Jesus Do?  I tapped into my upbringing and what I was taught in church, bible school, my mom, grandmother, godmother, and the words of my pastor.   I tried to turn the other cheek, forgive, and say justice was served.  I even held sympathy and empathy in my heart for him because this man’s wife was pregnant during this trial, and they lost a child.  I felt bad because he had not one but two children and a wife who will be left behind for 19 years, a wife who now had to figure some things out. But on the day of sentencing, when all was said and done, when every officer in the court room surrounded MY FAMILY as if we were going to “ACT A FOOL” in the court room, a female with his family jumped out of her seat and told his attorney, “I need to talk to you NOW!” It was the way she said it that did it for me.  All I could think, in that moment, was they better get him an ice pack for the knot he is going have on his head from hitting it on the podium.  I know one day, I will have to forgive him, but I don’t know when that day will be.  On the day he sits before whatever board to ask to be released from prison, Lord say the same, I’ll be there to ask them to keep him there.

You never know how you will react in a situation until it’s your situation and you never know your strength until you have to be strong.  People often ask me, Michelle, how do you do it?  I would have lost my mind by now.  Honestly, I don’t know, but what I do know is that I have a strong support system with my family and my true friends.  Whenever MADD ask’s me to speak at any engagement, I gladly do so.  I always begin with telling everyone over the age of 21, “I will never tell anyone not to drink because you are an adult and you make your own decisions, I just ask that you do so responsibly because that one moment of “turn up” can and will change lives forever.”  Because of MADD, our story reached the ears and eyes of 64 members of Congress and is now written and sealed in the congressional record forever.  Our story played a part in the changes that will be happening in the cars of people who do not make the right decisions when they have had too much to drink.  I am forever grateful for the connection of coping with people who know how it is to walk in my shoes but for those who took my shoes and walked in them for me when I was too weak to walk myself.

The members of law enforcement helped us give Sam a motorcycle ride to heaven that I can still see to this day.  And Khaiden got the gamers party of every kids dreams.  Khaiden and Sam’s basketball coaches helped me to turn a community basketball game held in their honor into a non-profit organization called Ballin’ for the Boys where we not only raise awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving but still host the basketball game and raise money to offer a scholarship to a deserving student in honor of the boys.

After reading this, I can only hope our story continues to change lives.  If just one!! That when called upon, law enforcement continues to do everything in their power to keep those people who have had too much to drink off the streets.  In these times, even when the public has a negative view of law enforcement, there are still officers like those in Louisiana State Patrol Troop A, who stood on the side of my bed, with tears in their eyes and said, “We got him” and then prayed with me.

My faith has wavered, my prayers will stop and go and sometimes turn to just cries.  The road has NOT been easy.  I avoid the cemetery and I still convince myself they are spending the night with family just so I can leave when I go visit.  Some days, I do feel like I’m going to lose my mind.  I questioned God because I wanted to know why?  What did I do that was so bad to be hurt this much? Each time I ask, God place me in positions, places and around people to help me figure out how to become my best self even after the trauma and I AM STILL HERE AND I WON’T STOP FIGHTING!

Michelle’s tragic story and “Mission Moment” is highlighted in MADD’s Law Enforcement Impaired Driving Roll Call Video Series which can be viewed at the following link.

https://vimeo.com/channels/1695972/page:1

And can be found on MADD’s Law Enforcement Support webpage at this link:

www.madd.org\les