I remember his shoes in the grass.

The Miami-Dade traffic homicide detective had come to deliver the worst news of my life. My 16-year-old daughter, Helen Marie, was rollerblading on a bike path a few blocks from home when a teen driver, high on marijuana and drunk on tequila, ran off the road and killed her.

When she hadn’t come home that June night, my husband had gone to look for her.

Now he was back. With a detective. Without Helen Marie. I ran through the grass, screaming.

I already knew what the officer was about to say. I could not look up. It was too heavy.

So I screamed at his shoes.

What courage it must have taken. To tell a mother her child was dead. What compassion he showed.

A few years later, I met the officer again. Mothers Against Drunk Driving had given me a platform for my grief. It started at a police roll call, just more than a year after Helen Marie’s death, where I was asked to stand up and tell my story. I began attending sobriety checkpoints, bringing the cookies my daughter loved to bake. And I went into schools, where I tried to reach teenagers who might be faced with the choice to drink alcohol — and get behind the wheel.

The officer’s name was David Greenwell, and he was on a similar mission. When he told me his name that day at the school, I asked to see his shoes. It was the only thing I could remember about him.

He lifted his heel. We remain friends to this day, just like so many of the law enforcement officers I have met on this journey. He is an avid supporter of MADD, and I still call on him.

Before Helen Marie was killed, I did not truly understand the vital role law enforcement plays in our fight to end this crime. Now I do. You are the tip of the spear. Your work changes lives. It saves lives.

A person drives drunk an average of at least 80 times before their first DUI arrest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When you take a drunk driver off the road, you are taking away their potential to injure or kill. You are ensuring that one more person makes it home. That one more family, one more community, is spared the devastation that this crime inflicts. And you are doing it at great personal risk. The sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols you perform act as a deterrent not to just drunk driving but to all crimes.

We could not perform our mission without you. On behalf of MADD and myself, thank you. We are here to support you. Just like you support us every day.


Helen Witty