Sobering Information On Drinking And Driving
‘Tis the season for holiday office parties, final exam celebrations and New Year’s Eve bashes. It’s also a dangerous season on the roadways when partygoers who’ve had too much to drink get behind the wheel. This month we take a look at the life-changing consequences of drinking and driving and provide you with the resources you need to make wise choices for yourself and those you may encounter on the road this holiday season.
Surviving The Unthinkable
Drunk Driving Took The Lives Of Both Of Vicki Landers’ Children
When Vicki Landers overhears co-workers chatting about plans to go out on the town, she can’t help but interject. “And who’s driving for you?” Landers asks.
Landers is a witty woman, a fast-thinking former nurse who’s quick with a joke. When it comes to the topic of drinking and driving, however, her demeanor turns serious.
That’s because eight years ago, the unthinkable happened to the Jefferson City resident and her family. It was noon on Thanksgiving Day 2002, and Landers was busy with holiday preparations. She was thawing a turkey in the kitchen sink when a highway patrol officer and a priest knocked on the door, informing her that her son had been involved in a fatal car crash. David Lee and the driver of the truck, a friend of his, had been drinking before the collision.
“Their tires dropped off the side of the road. He overcorrected, so they flew off the road and hit a tree. They were both ejected,” Landers says. “A man was driving to work around 7:30 a.m. and just looked down and saw them.”
The time gap between the men’s collision and their discovery tormented Landers. “As a mother, it was bad enough to know my son was dead, but what traumatized me the most was wondering, did they suffer? Were they laying there in the freezing cold, wondering if someone was going to help them? I called the coroner’s office and said, ‘I’ve got to know.’ They told me any one of his three injuries would have been instantaneous, so that set my mind at ease.”
Neither David Lee, who was 23 at the time of the accident, nor his friend was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. Landers speculates that David Lee would still have died even if he’d worn his seatbelt, but that his friend’s death might have been prevented.
Landers describes her son as a free spirit who liked to work with his hands. “He had a very strong idea of what was right and wrong morally, and how to treat people. He would be the one to pick up the stray on the side of the road. He just had a really big heart,” she says. “He liked to sketch, he liked anything with a hammer or a drill, he liked tinkering. And he liked to play guitar.”
After David’s death, the world was turned “completely upside-down” for the Landers family. She remembers being too numb to cry right away, and says her daughter, Becca, felt the same.
Landers reserved a burial plot for herself right next to her son’s. One late winter day, Vicki and Becca went to visit his gravesite together.
“Becca just casually said, ‘When I die, I want to be buried next to my brother,’ ” Landers recalls. She thought little of her daughter’s comment — after all, Becca had a 4-month-old daughter named Katlyn and was engaged to be married. She had her whole life ahead of her.
Two months later, 20-year-old Becca was laid to rest in the burial plot next to David Lee’s.
Becca and her fiancé were driving home from a friend’s get-together around midnight on April 12, 2003, when a drunk driver pulled out in front of them. The driver, a political refugee from Sierra Leone who had been drinking at a barbecue, hit the passenger’s side of the car where Becca was sitting.
“I just thank God their baby was not with them. She was with her other grandma,” Vicki says.
Becca’s fiancé sustained minor injuries, but Becca had a life-threatening head wound. She was taken to St. Mary’s Health Center in Jefferson City before being transferred to University Hospital in Columbia. After resuscitating her twice and attempting to do so a third time, the physicians told Landers and her husband, Becca’s stepfather, that Becca could not be revived and it was time to say goodbye.
“She looked almost perfect. She was still warm,” her mother says. “As a nurse, I’m looking at her pupils and wondering what injuries she could have had. She had a head wound that looked like a hatchet wound. She wasn’t breathing, but she didn’t seem dead. I was trying so hard to find something to give me hope there.”
Becca was a social, take-charge person whose stepfather thought she would have made a good president, her mom says. “Motherhood was her main activity. She still liked to go out with her friends. She was a socialite — she used to get in trouble in school because she’d stop and gab and be late for class,” Landers says.
A photo on a desk shows Becca at a bridal shower the day she passed away: a pretty, young mother holding her 6-month-old daughter on her lap.
“At first, I kept myself so busy that I didn’t go through the whole grieving process for five years,” Landers says.
Amazingly, her losses have not made her bitter. She believes it could just have easily been her son driving the night he and his friend died. “I knew Dave was a little wild,” she says.
As for the driver who hit Becca, Vicki has found the strength to forgive. “He saw his father executed in front of him, and then I found out that were he to be sentenced for more than a year, then that was automatic deportation. He probably would have been executed in Sierra Leone,” she says.
She did not lobby for the maximum sentence for the driver, who read Vicki and her family a remorseful letter detailing his distress about the car crash. “They sentenced him to 364 days in a county jail,” Landers says. “That was not automatic deportation. He served his 364 days.”
Landers has a very compassionate outlook. “God extended grace to me; why not extend it to another person?” she says. “I was angry, but I got past that. It’s easier to have a forgiving heart. Harboring a lot of hatred and anger is tiring! It’ll wear you out.”
With the judicial process now long behind her, Landers focuses on her granddaughter, her husband, and other friends and family members. When the holidays roll around, she reminds herself to let go of old holiday expectations and establishes new routines instead.
Still, every Thanksgiving brings back memories of the knock at the door after David Lee’s death. Landers says drunk driving has an incredible ripple effect that impacts not only the drivers, but entire communities of friends and family members touched by the incident. These ripples continue to reverberate for years, as they have in her life.
“Don’t drink and drive,” she says simply. “If you’ve got to drink, don’t drive. It’s such an easy, easy thing. If you don’t have someone to drive you, then don’t drink. And for Pete’s sake, wear a seatbelt. Wear a seatbelt!”
Mothers Against Drunk Driving
Not Just For Moms
Candy Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 1980 after her 13-year-old daughter, Cari, was fatally struck by a drunk driver while walking to a carnival. Today, the national organization’s mission statement is “to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking.”
MADD’s main goal is to provide victim services, whether that means just being a listening ear, giving drunk-driving victims a ride to and from the courtroom, or providing information and brochures to the family of the victim. “We’ll do basically whatever they need,” says Boone County Coordinator Betty Kidwell.
The organization also appeals to lawmakers to combat drunk driving through legislation. At the national level, MADD is pushing for a law that would require the installation of ignition interlock devices after the first DWI offense and hopes for new steering wheel sensor technology that would prevent cars from starting if alcohol is detected in the driver’s system.
MADD is a major proponent of sobriety checkpoints, holding the belief that these traffic stops increase public awareness and deter citizens from drinking and driving. To support local police officers working at sobriety checkpoints in the wee hours, “We provide food and soda pop. If it’s cold, we do coffee and hot chocolate for the officers so they can have something to eat and drink when they take a break,” Kidwell says. Local businesses pitch in by donating the food and drinks MADD serves at the checkpoints.
MADD volunteers may complete a brief training to become court monitors. These individuals record the key points of drunk-driving court proceedings to keep an eye on major trends throughout the United States. Additionally, MADD organizes victim impact panels as a preventative measure and speaks at schools and other organizations about responsible alcohol consumption.
“MADD is not a prohibitionist group,” Kidwell says. “If you’re 21 and over, you have the right to purchase alcohol, you have the right to drink alcohol, you can do with alcohol whatever you want. But you do not have the right to drive while intoxicated” because others may suffer due to these actions, she says.
Kidwell and her husband, Boone County Coordinator Tom Kidwell, encourage drivers to drink responsibly by designating a sober driver well in advance of a night out. “And it’s not the person who’s had the least to drink; it’s the person who’s had nothing,” Kidwell says. “Then the next time, have somebody else in the group be the designated driver.”
Kidwell welcomes anyone to get involved as a MADD volunteer. Despite the organization’s name, grandfathers, aunts, uncles and all other family members are invited to share their time and talent as volunteers. The MADD Boone County branch could use help with making phone calls, organizing fundraisers, acting as court monitors or helping with sobriety checkpoints.
To get involved with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, call Tom or Betty Kidwell at 573-445-9865 or 573-219-0133. For more information about the organization, visit www.madd.org; the website offers resources for talking to children about alcohol consumption, getting support after a drunk-driving incident and much more.
Tragedy And Triumph
Ms. Wheelchair USA Phaedra Olsen Comes Out On Top
Phaedra Olsen calls her life before the car crash her “previous life.” In it, she was a bubbly, active preschool teacher who modeled part time.
“I had it all,” she says.
Everything changed in an instant. One summer night in 1996, Olsen met some friends for pizza at Shakespeare’s and a concert at The Blue Note. No one had drugs or alcohol, she says. After leaving The Blue Note, an impaired driver sideswiped Olsen’s friend’s car before hitting Olsen’s vehicle head-on. Nearly everyone walked away with little more than bumps and bruises.
Everyone except Olsen.
She was rushed to a hospital in Jefferson City before being transferred to University Hospital. Her injuries included a multitude of broken bones, including her ankles, pelvis, thigh bone, ribs, forearm and others. Her liver was lacerated, and her gallbladder, appendix, spleen and part of her small intestine had to be removed. She was placed on a ventilator because her lungs had collapsed. Worst of all, the collision had caused her aortic valve to detach from her heart.
“At the university, they did open-heart surgery to repair my heart valve, and during that surgery the blood supply was cut off to my lower extremities. It paralyzed me from the waist down,” she says.
In a coma for several weeks, Olsen didn’t understand when she woke why she couldn’t move her legs or why she would never walk again. Thus began a grueling period of adjustment.
“I have a great support team — wonderful family, wonderful friends, wonderful physicians, and they really did help me get through that time,” she says. Nevertheless, “your entire world is upside own and it does become a whole other world.”
Shortly after Olsen was discharged from the hospital, her battle in the courtroom began.
“At that time, the state of Missouri had a 0.10 legal limit, and the man who had hit me had a level of 0.08. By the time we got to the criminal justice system, he was sent to prison for 120 days. I spent 124 days in the hospital,” she says. “And I kept thinking, where’s the justice? I actually became more angry at the criminal justice system itself than I ever was at the man who hit me.”
Olsen took action. She visited the state Capitol every Tuesday for two years, meeting with Missouri politicians and fighting to change the legal intoxication limit to a level of 0.08. “I’m just so honored that I was with [Gov.] Bob Holden when he signed it into effect,” she says.
In addition to her political activism, Olsen became very involved with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The organization had supported Olsen and her family through her hospital stay, and she wanted to comfort others who found themselves in similar scenarios.
“To go through such a devastating time in your life and to have to do it alone is just horrible,” she says.
Olsen’s volunteer work eventually turned into a position as the Missouri victim services manager, which allows her to support drunk-driving victims in the hospital and the court room. She speaks at schools, organizations and victim impact panels, and MADD has publicized her story on billboards and in television commercials.
This summer, Olsen’s winsome personality stole the hearts of the Ms. Wheelchair USA pageant judges, and she went home with the coveted title. Becoming Ms. Wheelchair USA has allowed Olsen to share two important messages with the world: That she is not against the consumption of alcohol, but rather the consumption of alcohol followed by driving, and that women in wheelchairs are beautiful.
“I think that was probably the hardest thing for me. Prior to being in a chair, I felt like walking into a room people’s heads turned because I was beautiful. Now when heads turn, I think it’s because I’m different,” she says.
Although Olsen’s life has certainly changed from the way it was before the car crash, it is nevertheless filled with joy. She recently married, forming a family unit that includes her son and her husband’s daughter. They enjoy family dinners and going to church together on Sundays. She also maintains an incredible shoe collection that includes more than 200 pairs of high heels and only two pairs of flats, chuckling at the impracticality of her hobby.
“I’m probably one of the most outgoing, happy people that you’ll ever meet,” Olsen says. “I love to laugh and I love to smile, and that’s one of the greatest things about becoming Ms. Wheelchair USA — getting to meet people.”
Spreading The Word
The Wellness Resource Center Educates About Alcohol
By Kamaria Morris
When most young adults think of alcohol, they think of parties, music, dancing and having a good time. Rarely do they pause to think of the grimmer side of alcohol consumption, such as DWIs, poisoning and even death. The award-winning Wellness Resource Center located on the University of Missouri campus, works diligently to bring awareness about some of these more serious issues.
Throughout the school year, the center sponsors nearly 200 student outreach programs, which have drawn in record numbers in the past few months.
The WRC focuses on MU student issues, but it is also open to the general public. Kim Dude, director of the WRC, says, “One of the most exciting things about the WRC is that our office has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as being a model wellness program. We are the only campus to get this award four times in 20 years!”
The center strives to employ students to help give presentations and plan events. One such student is Laceshionna Cline, an office assistant in the WRC and a peer educator through the MU Students Wellness Advocates, a branch of the WRC. “One misconception about the WRC is that most people think that our message is ‘don’t drink,’ ” Cline says, “but that’s not true at all. We advocate responsible drinking and that means taking care of yourself and your friends.”
October was alcohol awareness month (ARM), and the WRC hosted various student events such as a lunch bag event focusing on alcohol and nutrition, an ARM walk and a screening of the movie “Haze,”which chronicles the story of a boy who died from alcohol poisoning.
“One of my responsibilities is to enter anonymous evaluation responses into the computer, which we distribute at all of our events,” Cline says. “From what I’ve seen, people really enjoy our events and ARM is getting a lot of positive feedback.”
While the WRC staff works to increase alcohol awareness, it also tries to combat the societal issues that lead to underage drinking. Staff members believe alcohol consumption among young people is at dangerous levels, and that living in a college town only increases the temptation to drink. They seek to warn students of the dangers of heavy drinking, and implore the people of Columbia to get involved with alcohol responsibility.
“We can’t just blame the students,” Dude says. “We need to put pressure on local businesses to stop selling alcohol so inexpensively, which encourages heavy drinking. If the public gets involved, we could really make a difference. Talk to your elected officials.”
In between planning campus events and challenging local laws, the WRC is planning its move to a new area on campus. “We are very excited about our relocation to the new MU Student Center in January,” Dude says. “We plan to have a huge grand opening, and focus on New Year’s resolutions that will help curb drinking and other dangerous behaviors.”
Although alcohol awareness is a major goal of the WRC, it also provides students with classes on nutrition, time and stress management, exercise and smoking cessation. To contact the WRC, visit wellness.missouri.edu or call 573-882-4634.
Need A Ride?
Call one of these groups for a safe ride home instead of getting behind the wheel.
A free safe-ride program for University of Missouri students
Zingo Designated Drivers
Designated drivers transport you home in your own car using either a partner driver in another car or a fold-up motorbike that can be placed in your trunk
Concierge SUV Services LLC
Call in advance to make transportation arrangements
Taxis Economy Cab
Whether you’re looking for conversation starters to address underage drinking or need to reach out to someone about substance abuse, there are experts ready and waiting to help.
Family Counseling Center
Offers inpatient residential treatment facilities in addition to outpatient counseling services
Mothers Against Drunk Driving
Provides support for victims of drunk-driving incidents
An alcoholism recovery movement with the purpose of getting and staying sober
Under YOUR Influence
A website dedicated to eliminating the dangers of driving distracted or under the influence of alcohol, chock-full of tools for parents and new drivers
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
An umbrella organization with resources for a variety of topics, from the latest research about substance abuse to helpful information for military families
Phoenix Programs Inc.
A residential treatment center that encourages men to take the reins of their own recovery
A social services referral program that can help you find agencies to fit your needs, whether you’re looking for substance abuse treatment services or volunteer opportunities
211 from a landline or 800-427-4626 from a cell phone
Some Sobering Statistics From The Centers For Disease Control
- In 2008, 11,773 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (32 percent) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.
- Of the 1,347 traffic fatalities among children ages 0 to 14 years in 2008, about one out of every six (16 percent) involved an alcohol-impaired driver.
- In 2008, more than 1.4 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. That’s less than 1 percent of the 159 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year.
- Drugs other than alcohol (e.g., marijuana and cocaine) are involved in about 18 percent of motor vehicle driver deaths. These other drugs are often used in combination with alcohol.
- At all levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the risk of being involved in a crash is greater for young people than for older people.
- Among drivers with BAC levels of 0.08 percent or higher involved in fatal crashes in 2008, more than one out of every 3 were between 21 and 24 years of age (34 percent). The next two largest groups were ages 25 to 34 (31 percent) and 35 to 44 (25 percent).
- Among motorcyclists killed in fatal crashes, 30 percent have BACs of 0.08 percent or greater.
- Nearly half of the alcohol-impaired motorcyclists killed each year are 40 or older, and motorcyclists ages 40 to 44 have the highest percentage of fatalities with BACs of 0.08 percent or greater (44 percent).