I have spent the last 6½ years advocating that people not drink, text or speed while driving.
The fire that drives my passion is people who have paid an awful price because people have done these things.
One of them is Colleen Sheehey-Church, the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
On July 10, 2004, Colleen’s son, Dustin, was riding with some friends to get a pizza. The driver, a girl, had been drinking and using drugs. Driving too fast and under the influence, she lost control of her car, went over a cliff and into the Connecticut River.
The front seat occupants of the two-door car were able to get out. Dustin, who was wearing a seat belt and in the back seat, couldn’t get out and drowned. There was not a drop of alcohol or drugs in his system. He became trapped in a car that was being swallowed by the rising river.
Colleen has become a friend of mine and I have heard her tell the story several times. I still get a lump in my throat every time I hear it.
After getting grief support through MADD, she channeled her energy into doing something about the scourge of drunken driving.
Her work began in her home state of Connecticut and continued with the national organization, which elected her as president beginning in January 2015. Her three years as president will come to an end in December. She has logged thousand of miles traveling the country as a victim/advocate for MADD.
Last week, we traveled around the state making pre-July 4 appeals to Georgians not to drink and drive during the Independence Day holiday.
She makes no bones about it; she is doing it for Dustin and the 1 million other persons who have been killed by drunken drivers. She’s a mama who dearly loved her baby boy. He would be 31 now and given the drive and determination of Colleen, he would have found success in some field.
I’m so glad to know Colleen, but I wish I didn’t. I also wish I didn’t know parents who have lost children to texting and driving, speeding and other traffic-related tragedies.
I write this to say that if you’re going to be going to a July 4 event where alcohol is being served, make sure you know how you’re going to get home. Call a cab, call a friend, designate a driver, but don’t get behind the wheel of a car.
On average, we lose one person in a traffic crash every six hours in Georgia. We kill more people on our roads than the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio. We have been in the top 5 for many years. It’s a designation I want us to shed.
If you do decide to drink and drive, stop and think about the potential living hell that people like you can create for people like Colleen.
For her, days like July 4 are days she reflects on the life of her son who never got to see his full potential in life.
And if you think there is some excuse for your irresponsible behavior of drinking and driving, tell it to Colleen and the millions of others who have paid a price because of people like you.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.