How Angry Mothers and 'Little Girls' Changed Law on Drunken Drivers

January 01, 1995|By C. FRASER SMITH

She died in the merciless onslaught of a drunken driver who barreled through a stop sign and into the side of her mother's minivan. In the fury of shattered glass and crushed metal, this world lost a smile, a poet's eye, a loving heart, a leader's spirit and who can say what else.

Anne Kristen Davis, just 12 years old, became one of the 17,461 Americans killed in 1993 in alcohol-driven car crashes. About the same number of men, women and children died in the year just ended.

Annie Davis was on her way home from a football game and a stop at the local McDonald's. Her friends Valerie Edwards and Cassie Weitzen were with her in the middle seat of the minivan driven by Annie's mother, Susan Edkins.

Intending no irony, her stepfather, Alan Edkins, called it an All- American Friday night: touchdowns, cheeseburgers, pickups and drunken drivers.

Thomas Francis George, the motorist who crashed into the van, told police he'd been drinking beer at the Elks Club that afternoon. Beer cans and a cooler were found in the truck. George refused to take the blood-alcohol test that would have shown just how much he had drunk.

The crash occurred at the corner of Cape St. Claire and Busch's Frontage roads, adjacent to U.S. 50 outside Annapolis and not far from Arnold, a community of $200,000 homes built around the Magothy River, idyllic and all but isolated from the world outside. When the helicopters whirled overhead that night, no one thought they had come for children of their community or that one of them would not return.

"I thought it was all a dream," said Annie's brother, Drew. "No bad stuff had really ever happened to me."

"I'm never going to see her again," said Annie's friend Mark Porto. "Making myself believe it is the hardest thing."

Believing hasn't gotten much easier in the 14 months since the crash. One of her classmates at Magothy River Middle School, still working out her feelings, made a poster recently that said, "Annie Davis Lives."

Reminders are everywhere in almost everything. During an outing last fall at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center, students noticed that trees had been planted in honor of various classes and individuals. "We should plant one for Annie," one of the students told Annie's teacher, Diane Bragdon.

Ms. Bragdon, who directs the enrichment program at Magothy River, works with students on special projects. She asks them to fill out what she calls a "light bulb form," outlining the idea they want to pursue.

"After Annie's death our mailbox was flooded with forms," she says. The first child in the door was Erin Scheide, also 12: "I want to know what will happen to the man who killed my friend."

Ms. Bragdon and other parents thought they knew: "I thought this guy was going to go to jail immediately. I really did. I was completely naive."

A representative of Mothers Against Drunk Driving started her re-education:

"You can't count on justice happening here," Ms. Bragdon quotes her. "You can't count on this person ever going to jail. For one thing, he probably refused a blood-alcohol test."

In a sense, Ms. Bragdon wanted to pull the protective shield back into place.

"It really bothered me on a visceral level that a whole community of children, more than a thousand, might see that someone killed someone else and didn't get a minute in jail," she said. Each of 1,017 children at Magothy River had been through the D.A.R.E., an anti-drug abuse program emphasizing that individuals can control their lives -- and that consequences flow if they don't. But here was a situation that threatened to undermine that lesson.

Erin Scheide and Valerie Edwards led the student campaign. Working with MADD, they prepared to testify for a bill that would close a loophole in the blood-alcohol testing law.

Though testing was "mandatory" when a death occurred, that death must be immediate. While the victim lived, a driver could refuse to take the test -- and to be a valid measurement of the driver's condition at the time of the crash, the test must be done within two hours. Though gravely injured, Annie Davis lived more than a day.

Against the odds

But prospects for closing the loophole were not good. A bill that would have done what the Magothy River group wanted died without a vote in the House Judiciary Committee, a defense lawyer-dominated panel never regarded as a champion of tough sanctions against drunks.

But Susan Edkins and Annie's classmates demanded reconsideration and, with election-year pressure, they were successful.

"It seems as if when you refuse to do everything a police officer tells you to do, you stand a better chance of not being punished or of being punished to a lesser degree," Erin told the senators and delegates.

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