Rebecca Winkler was a Daddy’s girl! A beautiful 16-year-old from Knoxville, Tennessee, she was a quiet introvert who worked very hard. She had just finished her sophomore year of high school and had two summer jobs keeping her busy. She wanted to be an accountant, like her father, Jack, and to raise four children, like her parents had. Family meant a lot to her. Unlike most teens, her favorite past times were crafts and sewing. And she was very active with her church.
But on June 23, 2005, she was driving her Honda Accord on her way to work at 8:30am when a repeat DUI offender in a Jeep Liberty crossed both center yellow lines to hit her head-on. She braked and skidded 64 feet in an attempt to avoid the oncoming vehicle to no avail. When the crash was over, she called her mom from the crash site. In the background, her mother, MaryLou, heard words no mother wants to hear! A Good Samaritan, an off-duty nurse, had stopped to help. “She needs oxygen,” she said, “This girl is not going to make it.” Sadly, she was right. Rebecca died from her injuries. The offender had multiple DUI convictions prior to the wreck and received at least one other DUI after killing Rebecca.
After the crash, the Winklers found rolls of toilet paper in the trunk of Rebecca’s car – evidence of a foiled plan to toilet paper a neighborhood home with friends – a bittersweet and amusing, reminder that their daughter had a quirkly, unexpected side. They also learned that, not only did she have plans for a family of four, but she had already chosen names for her future children as well: grandchildren the Winklers would never know.
Rebecca’s family (including her parents; 2 sisters, Angela and Sheila; and brother Jason) were devastated by her loss. Her father retired early: his route to and from work took him past Rebecca’s burial site. Jack and MaryLou now travel annually during the anniversary of Rebecca’s crash. Being home during the crash anniversary is just too painful of an emotional trigger. “Even though it’s been more than 10 years since we lost Rebecca,” they say, “it still feels like yesterday.”
The Winklers began volunteering for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Tennessee in 2008. They speak at Victim Impact Panels monthly, sharing their story with offenders to help them better understand the lifelong impact one poor decision can have. They also participate in the East Tennessee Walk Like MADD to raise funds and awareness about the dangers of impaired driving. And they serve as Peer Supports to other victims of impaired driving, offering emotional support and helping families understand that they are not alone.
The Winklers now affectionately refer to their daughter as “Forever 16.” Rebecca was 16 years old on that fateful morning and now will always be. She is missed, but never forgotten. The Winkler family is dedicated to making sure that her memory lives on and to doing everything they can to ensure that other families don’t have to face the same trauma that they have faced.