Introducing Please, Give "The Gift" Program!!
Many years ago, I was driving in the car with my husband, Dean, and passed a sign for Mother's Against Drunk Driving. Dean and I spoke about our interest in being a part of such a great organization. Little did we know that just a few months later, we would become "honorary members" of MADD.
When I first decided to call MADD, I asked them, "How do you become a member?" and they said, "Well, you already are a member". She answered that way because the nature of my call was to ask for their help. My husband had become a victim of a deadly DUI crash on September 9, 1990 at 11:20 p.m. It was Grandparents Day. Our first. Phillip, our son was only six-weeks old and had met his grandparents for the first time that day....it was September 9, 1990.
The only requirement I needed to be a member of MADD was taken care of on September 9, 1990 when Dean was killed. My husband, Phillip's father. He was a husband, a father, a parent, a son, a brother, co-worker, brother-in-law, son-in-law and loved by many people. The world was so different without him in it.
We were now a statistic in the books and records of MADD and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There were 15,000 people killed in the United States that year. That doesn't count the many that were maimed and crippled at the hands of drunk drivers. Now in 2009, the year Phillip graduated from high school, 10,839, were killed. In 2010, the number was 10,228. In 2013, 10,076 people died in drunk driving crashes - one every 52 minutes - and 290,000 were injured in drunk driving crashes. So the numbers have gone down. These number do not comfort me though. It is still too many, wouldn't you agree? There is still much work to be done. Each of these people have a story to be told about life, dreams and future hopes. But now those dreams have died with them and we are left with only memories and thoughts of what may have been.
I had no idea at that time the extent of involvement I would have with Mother's Against Drunk Drivers. They walked with me every step of that year in the "justice" system which involved the man who killed Dean. It took a year almost to the day of my husband's death to have closure on the sentencing of the offender. That happened because I called the judge on our case and asked that the continuances and delays cease. I needed closure and to somehow move on with my life. He had been a former prosecution attorney specializing in DUI and was sympathetic to my walk and set a sentencing date of September 5, 1991 at 5:30. It was a sentencing with only us in the courtroom.
Mr. Barnhardt was adjudicated guilty. He spoke the words, guilty when asked how do you plead? He was required to say "guilty" instead of "no contest" which was what he wanted to say.
In 1991, family members of the victim were very much involved with the sentencing process. It was my say that demanded he speak these words. He killed Dean, he needed to accept responsibility for it. Mr. Barnhardt denied killing Dean. His BAC was .23. His truck had crossed the centerline hitting Dean's truck head on headlight to headlight. He didn't remember it and would not admit he had killed a young husband and father. Without accepting it, would he kill again? I could not and would not take that chance. I had to do my part. Who else would speak for Dean as loudly as I would?
I felt it was my responsibility to be involved. It would have been much easier to have just walked away and allowed the state to take care of it. Something inside me would not allow me to let someone else do it. It was my place. Who would be better to represent Dean and have more passion for this, than me? Over the years, I have discovered that it was up to me to make the change, to make the impact, to speak up, to step forward. I, myself, listen more carefully to someone who has had more at stake, more heart, more commitment to the cause because of their level of involvement....why should this be any different.
I could not have done what I did without the help from MADD. These are special people who are dedicated to victims of DUI. I don't even want to think about what my life would have been like without my Victim Advocate, Janet Dunnican. She was committed to me in a way that I have never seen in any other area of my life. I got through horrible moments because she stood or kneeled and held me while I was broken and crushed under a weight of grief so heavy, I thought it would kill me. I never want another person to feel such a horrible thing in this life......
So, this is why I am dedicated to giving The Gift....our hope is, that in giving The Gift, you will know a full and wonderful life, void of a hell that those who are Honorary Members of MADD know all too well.
Please join us in giving "The Gift"!!
Born December 31, 1957
Died September 9, 1990