Confronting Faces Behind The Statistics

Victims Of Drunken Driving Speak Out At Impact Panel

December 15, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

Despite two convictions on drunken driving charges in the last threeyears, Lori didn't take seriously the media hype about the dangers of drinking and driving.

That attitude changed Monday night when the repeat offender met victims of drunken driving accidents and heard their stories of lives changed forever.

"Here, you see they're still living with scars every day," said Lori, who declined to give her last name. "It makes you think."

The24-year-old Bel Air woman was one of about 50 people attending the county's Victim Impact Panel, a program held monthly for motorists convicted of driving while intoxicated in the county courts.

Most of the audience had been ordered by judges to attend the panel session as part of their sentences. About 500 people, many of them repeat offenders, have attended the program since it started in April 1990. The panels are organized in Maryland by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Kevin Harlinski, the moderator at Monday's panel, opened Monday's meeting by noting: "We are not here to blame you for our tragedies or to judge your actions. We just want you to realize that there are faces and names behind the statistics and reports that are printed in thepaper."

One of those present at the meeting to share her story was Emily Hines.

On Aug. 19, 1989, the Churchville resident was blocks from her home when her Mercury Topaz was struck head-on by a Jeep operated by a drunken driver on Calvary Road. Pinned in her car for about an hour, Hines suffered fractures to her skull, leg, knee and ankle. She also had six broken ribs, a punctured lung and liver damage.Hines spent nearly three months in hospitals recovering from her injuries.

"I pass the crash site at least three times a day, so I'll never erase it from my mind," said Hines, a 63-year-old mail carrier."But I'm just glad to be alive."

Tammy Fitzgerald recalled how her 59-year-old father's stopped taxi was struck by a drunken driver whose vehicle was travel

ing at 80 mph.

His injuries included multiple fractures to his face and right leg, she said. Rib bones were used to replace damaged bones in his face. His leg had to be amputated. Hospital bills totaled about $500,000.

"It feels like I lost my daddy," said Fitzgerald. "That may be immature for a 25-year-old, butI didn't deserve it. . . . I don't think you want to live with this by doing this to someone's life."

A third victim, Kimberly Schaffel of Forest Hill, said that after she was struck by a car operated bya drunken driver on Christmas Eve in 1977, she faced going from "dancing every night to bowling in a wheelchair." After almost 14 years of physical therapy, she still has difficulty moving her legs, she said.

Some people in the audience bowed their heads as the victims told their stories. Others fidgeted in their seats. A few wiped tears from their eyes.

Lloyd, a 20-year-old Aberdeen man, was among the group at Monday's panel meeting. He said he was ordered by a judge to attend the session after being charged with driving while intoxicatedlast year. He declined to give his last name.

"If you come to these meetings, you're going to think before you drink and then drive. .. . One day in your life, it can happen," he said after the session.

Panelists' stories seem to move most people who attend the sessions, but some are beyond reach, Harlinski said. He recalled one man who showed up drunk at a meeting.

Harlinski began participating in the panels after he and his girlfriend were injured in a May 1989 crash involving a drunken driver.

Schaffel, coordinator of the county's MADD group, ended the two-hour session by telling the participants to call her if they are drinking and need a ride home. She then handed out her business cards and gave her home telephone number.

"Whathappened to us might happen to you," Schaffel said. "It'll probably happen to someone you know in your lifetime."

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