Drunken driving: victory born of loss

May 03, 1994|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Sun Staff Writer

Susan Edkins drove to the Maryland State House yesterday to witness the final moment in a victory built on loss.

She posed with Gov. William Donald Schaefer as he signed a bill calling for mandatory blood alcohol testing of suspected drunken drivers after crashes resulting in life-threatening injuries.

Well-wishers congratulated Mrs. Edkins, but her mind remained focused on the events of Oct. 29, 1993.

On that day, six months ago, her 12-year-old daughter, Annie Davis, was fatally injured in a crash involving a suspected drunken driver.

The driver refused a test, taking advantage of a legal loophole. State law requires testing for blood alcohol content only when death of an accident victim occurs immediately. The bill signed yesterday makes the test mandatory if a crash causes life-threatening injuries.

The change takes effect Oct. 1.

"It's a step in the right direction," said Annie Powell, an official of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Maryland.

Almost every step in the campaign to get drunken drivers off the road has been as torturous and slow as this one.

MADD, the Maryland State Police, county prosecutors and others had proposed a tightening of the testing law for seven straight years. This year, too, bills proposing that change died in a House committee and faced dim prospects in the Senate.

Legislators revived them for a combination of reasons: lobbying by Annie's schoolmates at Magothy River Middle School, public awareness of the loophole, the coming elections -- and the determination of Susan Ann Edkins of Arnold, a 40-year-old pediatric and intensive care nurse.

"Without her courage, her willingness to be here under these circumstances, it wouldn't have happened this time," said Julie Scheide, whose daughter, Erin, was one of Annie's friends and one of several Anne Arundel students who testified before committees and met with key legislators.

Police testified that drivers who are stopped for drunken driving in Maryland increasingly refuse to be tested, accepting suspension of their licenses rather than having tests reveal the full extent of their drinking. Used as evidence in court, test results can produce more severe penalties.

Mrs. Edkins was also preoccupied yesterday by the prospect of going to court on May 19. On that day, the driver of the pickup that hit her van, Thomas Francis George, 61, is scheduled for trial on charges of vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol.

Once again, Mrs. Edkins will have to try to relive the event that took her daughter.

"I don't want to be there. I want to be there. Am I strong enough?" she said.

Though she has been successful, the push for a tougher law does nothing to change the reality.

"It was something we had to do," she said of the lobbying effort.

+ "It hasn't eased the pain."

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