Remembered by his mother, Becky Gage
In 1993, I became a MADD volunteer after my son Dennis survived life-threatening injuries as the result of a DUI crash. His girlfriend Mandy died in that crash, and friend Landis also survived injuries. After that, another crash was always a fear in my heart and I was terrified of losing my only child.
On February 15, 1996, my husband was at a meeting and Dennis came over to work on a school paper. We shared pizza and ice-cream and listened to a CD that I gave him as a Valentine’s gift. As he prepared to head home for a night in with his girlfriend watching movies, we hugged and I told him he would always be my favorite Valentine and gave him a candy heart. He laughed, told me he loved me too and that I was silly.
Hours later, when I was notified of the horrific crash, I felt that the Earth had truly stopped spinning and I was being hurled into the blackest space.
After arriving back home, Dennis offered to drive his friends Teri and Joe to a nightclub in Tampa since they had been drinking before they stopped by and he had only consumed less than one beer. When they got there, Teri, who was only 17 realized she didn’t have her fake ID so they decided to go back to Dennis’ house and watch movies. As they were pulling out, his friends Brandon and Jimmy came out of the nightclub and asked if they could have a ride to Dennis’ house as well. They were both underage and had been drinking in the club using fake IDs.
There was a heavy rainstorm that night and as Dennis drove down Highway 41 his car hit an oily spot, hydroplaned and he lost control of the car. The car skidded off the roadway, became airborne, crossed over a ditch and the passenger side slammed into a large palm tree which was completely pulled out of the ground. Dennis’ car continued to spin and hit a second palm tree which broke in half causing the car to spin sideways, clipping a telephone pole, flipping over and sliding until it landed in some bushes.
Dennis was partially ejected, Teri was crushed in the front passenger seat and Joe was thrown out the back hatch and dragged under the car. We were told all three died instantly. Jimmy and Brandon were not injured and were able to crawl out and get back up to the road to flag down help.
I didn’t realize how physically painful grief could be; I felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest and stomped on. I had a hard time working, I suffered severe health issues and dealt with loss of sleep, weight gain and mood swings.
I tried to be upbeat around others and strong for my husband and Dennis’ friends, but often sat up crying all night so no one would know.
I prayed and begged God to lead me in some positive direction. A year later, our MADD chapter decided to hire someone full time as an advocate / administration. For almost 19 years now, I have not only been a MADD volunteer; I have also served Hillsborough County as paid MADD Victim Advocate. Through the love and compassion of my own large family and my MADD family, I have been able to draw strength from the loss of the most precious person in the world to me and help others through their tragedies.
Dennis remains the inspiration in my life and I am so blessed to have had him for the 20 years that I did.