WESTMINSTER — In the moments following her son's death in a drunken-driving accident, Shirley Johnson and her husband stood in front of their closets and wondered what to wear.
"What do you wear to identify your dead son at the hospital?" Johnson asked a group of convicted drunken drivers at the county's first Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victim ImpactPanel last night.
Johnson was one of four people who told stories of how drunken drivers came crashing into their lives or the lives of loved ones, leaving them forever changed.
The 13 people listening were convicted of driving while intoxicated in the Carroll County courts. As part of their sentences, Carroll judges ordered them to hear how drunken driving can ruin lives.
"Its not you against us," said Johnson, MADD'sstatewide coordinator for victim assistance. "This is a problem thatwe can solve together."
Johnson said she never thought about drunken driving until 12 years ago, when her 25-year-old son was killed by a driver who had had too much to drink.
Her son, on his way to work at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Harford County, was killed instantly in the head-on crash.
The driver of the other car was a 41-year-old alcoholic with a long history of drunken-driving violations,she said.
Johnson said she was not angry at the woman, but was angry at the system that allowed her to keep getting behind the wheel.
Donna Becker's sister Barbara was 26 when she was killed in a head-on crash on Route 222 near Lancaster, Pa. Her sister was wearing a seat belt, but her seat was broken by the impact.
Becker said her sister sustained brain damage when she fell forward, hitting her chin on the --board.
"That's why when people say to me drunken driving is not a violent crime, I don't understand it," said Becker, president of the northern Maryland chapter of MADD. "What's more violent thanhaving a car slammed into you?"
Becker told the group to rememberthat when someone is killed in a drunken-driving accident, there arefamilies who suffer.
She also encouraged them to tell their lovedones how they feel about them, before it is too late.
"This couldhappen to you," she said. "I never got to say, 'Goodbye,' or 'I'm sorry for all the fights we had growing up.' "
The panel, held at Carroll County Community College, was sponsored by the Carroll County chapter of MADD, which is planning another session in December.
Thepanels have existed for a number of years on the West Coast and havespread to other parts of Maryland, but this is the first attempt to bring them to Carroll, said Shirley Hampt, president of the Carroll chapter.
"It gives people convicted of drunken driving a chance to listen
to victims," she said. "It shows them a personal side they don't see in court."
The single county member of the panel was Ralph Dennis of Westminster, who was hit by a drunken driver in December1989 just after he left his office in Woodlawn, Baltimore County.
Dennis said that although he believes he was lucky to have survived the accident, his heart muscle was damaged and he couldn't sleep lying down for six weeks.
Hampt said she is hoping to have more Carroll victims on the December panel.
"We hope we can find some people who will be able to come forward and talk about their experience," she said. "It can be very emotional."