National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month

Written by Connie Henry

I’m Jake’s mom. I’ll always be Jake’s mom. On October 10, 2010, Jake and his fiancée Stephanie were killed by a drunk and drugged driver as they drove back to their apartment in Lawrence, Kansas. They were both seniors at KU; they had been friends since 5th grade and had dated through high school and college. The other driver was also killed in the crash he caused—he passed a van on a dangerous curve, clearing the van but clearly left of center as his Subaru Impreza struck Jake’s Saturn head on. Jake and Stephanie were killed instantly. My heart died as well.

It sounds cliché, but Jake and I had had the talk months earlier about his driving back and forth from Lawrence to the Legends Outlet Mall in Kansas City, Kansas where he worked several days/nights a week. Jake said, “Mom, nothing’s ever going to happen to me.” I replied, “It’s not you I’m worried about; it’s the other driver.” How prophetic. That Sunday afternoon in October, the other driver had consumed five shots of vodka on top of three meds: diazepam, nordiazepam, and temazepam. You know those stickers on the yellow prescription vials which state “do not consume alcohol while taking this medication”? That warning is attached for a reason. His friend stated for the accident report that his buddy was fine to drive as he left for home. Maybe not so much.

Because the other driver died, there was no trial, for which I’m thankful, but it skewed everything. We did not learn that the other driver had a BAC of .123 until a year and a day after the crash. We did not avail ourselves of the services of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Kansas because we didn’t know the other driver was drunk. We know now that MADD victim advocates, free of charge, will see that you receive the support and resources you need; they will attend the trial with you and help you navigate the system. They have a 24-hour hotline where volunteers man the phones and will talk to anyone at any time about their experience. They also have an online website for victims of drunk and impaired crashes. I received training as a peer support person; I can walk with local individuals through their personal experiences and lend support. My husband attends law enforcement DUI check lanes, where he shares our story with law enforcement and helps out while the officers stop vehicles to check for drunk and/or impaired drivers. MADD Kansas also holds an annual Walk like MADD 5K, where families of victims come together to support one another and to raise money for the organization as well as an annual Candlelight Vigil held every December to honor and remember those whose lives have been impacted by impaired driving.

So, how did we discover MADD Kansas? Several years after the crash, I had an encounter with a local law enforcement officer, in the cemetery, of all places. He walked with me over to our loved ones’ graves and listened to our story. He was supportive and sympathetic, and told me “You need to meet my wife. She works for MADD Kansas.” Long story short, I now speak for MADD at victim impact panels in three counties in the KC metro area. DUI offenders are often required by the judge to attend these panels. I tell them the up close and personal ways in which our lives have been irrevocably changed. I share Jake’s and Stephy’s story with the idea that impaired driving is a choice; choices and actions have consequences, irreparable consequences. I remind them that MADD is not anti-alcohol - MADD doesn’t care if you drink, as long as you are of age. Just don’t drink and drive. Have a plan: know how you are going to get home before you ever leave your dorm room or apartment. Think before you drink: choose a sober designated driver, or arrange for Uber or Lyft, but above all, be responsible and aware. Speaking from personal experience, I really don’t want your loved ones to have to endure what my family has suffered. I also don’t want you to live with the consequences that drunk driving can bring. Please make good choices.

Jake and Stephy had their whole lives ahead of them. Jake would have completed his degree in sports management that fall and would have spent the spring semester doing an internship with Sporting KC. Instead, he and Stephy are buried side by side in our city cemetery. He did receive his degree: he holds a BSE through the School of Education, but—he’s not here to reap the benefits of all his hard work. The self-centered choices made by the other driver affected his family and our families for the rest of our lives. I would ask that, the next time you have the opportunity to down a few drinks, please remember what happened to Jake and Stephy. Through no fault of their own, their lives were ended tragically because one man made a terrible, tragic decision. Please don’t drink and drive.

#nomorevictims #theyshouldstillbehere #uncommoninlifeuntimelyindeath

To learn more about or get involved with MADD: